Atwater family alleges wrongful death in Mercy Medical Center lawsuit

08/29/2014 7:28 PM

08/29/2014 11:37 PM

An Atwater family is suing Merced Medical Center, claiming the hospital caused the death of 34-year-old Steven Santora in 2013.

Three of Santora’s children, ages 11, 3 and 2, are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed earlier this year in Merced Superior Court. Santora’s family is seeking unspecified financial damages for wrongful death and the loss of financial care of the children as a result of the death.

Santora’s ex-wife, Denise, told the Merced Sun-Star that Santora sought medical treatment for stomach pain on Aug. 12, 2013, and was admitted the Merced hospital. Denise Santora said she spoke with Steven Santora by telephone late on the night of Aug. 13, 2013. A few hours later, about 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, Steven Santora died at the hospital.

The lawsuit claims Santora died as a result of hospital staff administering a lethal dose of hydromorphone, a type of morphine.

“It’s a tragic case of a father of three being killed by the hospital because of their negligence,” said Moseley Collins, the attorney representing the Santora family. “We hope not only to be able to provide for Steven’s children, but to have the hospital not overdose and kill other patients in the future.”

Collins said he believes the medical staff violated hospital policy. He claims the staff gave Santora a dose of hydromorphone less than three hours after his previous dose.

Santora’s family claims the hospital staff failed to check on him for at least several hours after administering the pain-killing medication.

A toxicology report, provided to the media by Collins, indicated no other “basic drugs,” medication or alcohol was found in Santora’s system. The report lists the official cause of death as “sudden cardiorespiratory arrest” due to “acute hydromorphone intoxication,” and notes that Santora was reportedly allergic to morphine.

The report also says there were “no clinical findings in the medical record to suggest he suffered a ... reaction to (hydromorphone). However ... airways showed non-specific chronic inflammation ... such that I cannot completely rule out that he sustained this rare untoward reaction while not being observed.”

Merced Medical Center spokesman Bob McLaughlin said that as a matter of policy, hospital staff does not comment on pending litigation. Efforts to reach hospital attorney Michael Mordaunt were unsuccessful.

In his formal response to the lawsuit, Mordaunt said the hospital was not at fault for Santora’s death. Mordaunt wrote that if any negligence occurred in the case, it was Santora who was negligent and not the hospital. Mordaunt did not say exactly how Santora may have been negligent.

Denise Santora said she was with Santora when he advised the medical staff he was allergic to morphine.

Santora served two separate prison terms for robbery and assault convictions more than 10 years ago, but Denise Santora said he’d overcome those issues with law enforcement and with drug addiction.

Though he battled addiction issues for many years, Denise Santora said he had “turned his life around,” worked hard and been drug-free for nearly a year at the time of his death.

She said he had been at Hobie House, a residential substance abuse treatment facility in Merced, for over seven months. “He didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “It was the hospital that made the mistake.”

Santora’s children described him as a fun-loving prankster whom they missed..

A status conference in the case is scheduled for Sept. 8.

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