Dr. Cheung
Dr. Cheung

Luke Cheung: Newport Beach Doctor Must Pay For Fatal Error, Appellate Court Rules

A California Court of Appeal has upheld a jury decision against a Newport Beach doctor whose botched interpretation of a computerized tomography (CT) scan led to the unnecessary death of an 85-year-old woman at Hoag Hospital in 2009.

The 16-page ruling decision announced Jan. 4, the three-justice appellate panel rejected Dr. Luke Cheung's contention that the jury erred when it determined after a trial that his failure to diagnosis Lois Shafer's intracranial bleeding prompted an emergency room doctor to discharge her from the hospital.

Several hours later at home, according to court records, Shafer's brain bleeding dramatically increased, causing severe brain damage and, after unsuccessful last minute surgery, death.

Cheung tried to argue that Shafer died in the "natural course" of her condition and that his misdiagnosis didn't delay the emergency surgery 12 hours later.

But in an opinion written by Justice Kathleen O'Leary, the newly named presiding justice in Orange County, the Santa Ana-based appellate court determined that the evidence supported the jury's finding of medical malpractice.

O'Leary noted that an expert testified that if Cheung had seen the bleeding then Shafer wouldn't have been discharged, treatment would have begun quickly and the patient "would have had a very successful outcome . . . complete recovery or close to a complete recovery."

The ruling means that Cheung will have to pay the Shafer family $206,356 in damages and reimbursement them for the expenses they incurred fighting the doctor's appeal of the jury verdict.

Richard Taketa, a radiologist who also studied Shafer's CT scan and failed to see the bleeding, settled with the family before a trial.

The jury decided that Hoag Hospital and the emergency room doctor, Charles Goldsworthy, were not liable for the unnecessary death.

Shafer, who aided numerous Orange County philanthropic charities, was the wife of Corona del Mar businessman Dickson Shafer.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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