The Morning Call
Jury awards $6.3M to widow of jogger who died of heart attack
A Lehigh County jury Monday awarded $6.3 million to a woman whose 48-year-old husband died of a heart attack while jogging, six weeks after a cardiologist at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem cleared him of any heart problems.
James L. Cowher II of Ringtown, Schuylkill County, collapsed while jogging on Aug. 23, 2016, and was found in a ditch by passersby. An autopsy showed that he died from acute myocardial infarction and that his arteries were severely constricted, according to a lawsuit filed in 2018.
On July 11, the lawsuit states, Cowher went to his family doctor because he was experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath and other symptoms. Cowher had a family history of heart disease, according to the lawsuit.
He was referred to cardiologist Dr. Sobhan Kodali, of St. Luke’s Cardiology Associates and St. Luke’s University Health Network, who diagnosed Cowher with anxiety and panic attacks two days later, the lawsuit states, and discharged him.
Following a six-day trial before Judge J. Brian Johnson, a jury of 10 men and two women unanimously found Kodali was negligent in failing to diagnose severe coronary artery disease despite symptoms that included repeated episodes of radiating chest pain associated with shortness of breath, nausea and sweating, said attorney Andy Youman, who represents Cowher’s widow, Karen Cowher.
Youman called Cowher’s death “entirely avoidable,” noting that Cowher, because of his family history, knew the warning signs of a heart attack and went to his doctor right away.
“He did everything he was supposed to do,” Youman said. “His cardiologist did not pay enough attention to the details and dismissed his symptoms as noncardiac. That error cost Jim his life. We are gratified that the jury saw the truth and reached the correct result.”
St. Luke’s spokesman Sam Kennedy said the health network was disappointed by the verdict, noting that Cowher had an stress echocardiogram in September of 2015 which “showed excellent functional capacity.” Kennedy said Cowher’s most recent cardiac lab studies and electrocardiogram tests were negative for heart damage, and Cowher told Kodali that he was able to exercise, including running, without any symptoms.
“After hearing testimony from a nationally renowned expert from Penn State Medical Center who agreed that St. Luke’s provided the best possible care to the patient, it is disappointing that the jury reached a different conclusion and awarded a shockingly high sum,” Kennedy said. “While we respect the decision of the jury, tort reform is very much needed in this country so that awards are within the realm of reasonableness.”
The jury deliberated for less than an hour before reaching its verdict.
Cowher, a father of one, was an Army veteran who was very active and physically fit, Youman said. He was employed as a lieutenant at the state prison in Frackville.