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Probate Records Indicate DHMC Settled Wrongful Death Case for $2 Million

  • Sean Tillotson in a 2013 photograph. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Chelsea — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center recently settled a medical malpractice lawsuit brought by the parents of a former Oxbow High School senior who died in 2014 for $2 million, according to court records.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock paid the money to settle a case involving 17-year-old Sean Tillotson, who suffered a pulmonary embolism-type event while changing planes in the Denver airport en route to a leadership conference in Wyoming and died on June 30, 2014.

His parents, Gary and Bethanne Tillotson, of Bradford, Vt., alleged in a June 2016 lawsuit that two D-H physicians’ review of their son’s kidney ultrasound in early May of that year was “grossly inaccurate” and led to his wrongful death.

Neither party publicly released the settlement amount in September, saying it was confidential. But probate court records in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea filed on Nov. 6 indicate the hospital settled for $2 million, with $760,000 of that amount going for attorneys’ fees.

The Tillotsons’ attorney, Bruce Felmly, of the Manchester-based McLane Middleton, said on Tuesday that he had no comment on the settlement amount. The settlement statement filed in probate court indicates that the law firm had a 38 percent contingency fee in the case. McLane Middletown also received $126,000 for expenses out of the DHMC payment.

After those payments, the proceeds to the Tillotsons totaled $1.11 million, according to the documents, several of which were filed throughout the month of November.

D-H spokesman Rick Adams said the hospital also had no comment.

D-H had denied the claims after the lawsuit was filed, and a court document indicates the parties agreed that the case would be dismissed and all claims made moot.

Messages left for Bethanne Tillotson, the teen’s mother, weren’t returned by deadline.

Albert (Buzz) Scherr, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, said a $2 million settlement doesn’t seem surprising in a case like this.

“In these circumstances, it doesn’t strike me as an unusual amount,” Scherr said on Tuesday evening.

When settling, a hospital often weighs factors such as liability and the age of the person in the wrongful death claim.

“It’s kind of a cold business. The life of somebody who is 75 years old and is the victim in a wrongful death suit is valued differently than the life of someone who is 17 years old,” he said.

The Tillotsons’ lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Concord, alleged that if physicians had properly interpreted an ultrasound their son received in May 2014, they would have found a large malignant mass on his kidney and provided proper care, to include surgical intervention, which would have likely saved his life.

The Tillotsons learned when he was 7 that Sean had a benign calcified cyst on his kidney, something that required annual follow-ups throughout adolescence. On May 1, 2014, his mother brought him to the DHMC emergency room after he had blood in his urine, and he had an ultrasound taken of his kidneys.

His left kidney was “read as ‘stable’ and ‘unchanged’ from previous exams,” the lawsuit said, and he was discharged. After Sean died later that spring, an autopsy showed he had a “large mass” on his left kidney, and that part of it had broken off. The mass wasn’t in the report from the May ER visit, according to the lawsuit.

Sean Tillotson, an Eagle Scout and outdoors enthusiast, played football and lacrosse at Oxbow High.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.