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Jury awards $4.8m to family in death of patient

Heart ailment was not detected in ’06

The family of a man whose lethal heart ailment was misdiagnosed as a lung infection was awarded $4.8 million last week by a Suffolk County jury, which concluded a doctor was responsible for the man’s death.

Jeffrey Kace went to the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center emergency room complaining of a cough, fever, and chest pains on Aug. 14, 2006. During a five minute visit, Dr. Ivan E. Liang diagnosed the 23-year-old man with bronchitis. The physician prescribed antibiotics and painkillers, and sent him home to rest, said Robert Higgins, the medical malpractice lawyer who handled the case for Kace’s estate.

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The next morning, Kace was found dead in his bed about 6 a.m., Higgins said.

“He went to bed that night and never woke up,” Higgins said in a telephone interview.

In the weeks that followed, medical examiners identified Kace’s cause of death as myocarditis, a virus that infects and inflames the heart muscle.

An electrocardiogram, usually administered when patients complain of chest pain as Kace did, would have revealed the infection, said Higgins. Liang did not order that test, said Higgins, an attorney with the Boston law firm Lubin & Meyer.

“This was very preventable,” he said. “This was a virus, a very preventable condition if a doctor spends time figuring it out.”

Liang was present for the trial, but did not respond to an interview request. Liang’s attorney Wilson Rogers III declined to comment.

Kace’s brother, Charles Kace, and mother, Lynn Kace, could not be reached by phone. Higgins said they did not wish to comment because of the emotional nature of the case.

Liang did not renew his Massachusetts license when it expired in 2010, according to a Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine database.

He has been licensed as a physician and surgeon in California since 2009, when he moved there, according to Higgins. Liang now works out of the Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif., according to a hospital official. He hasn’t had any misdemeanors in the state of California, according to the database of the California agency that oversees physicians.

St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center officials declined to comment on the case because Steward Health Care, the hospital’s owner, took possession after the incident occurred.

The hospital’s previous owner, Caritas Christi Health Care system, was purchased by Steward’s parent company in 2010.

“All I can say is that Dr. Liang no longer works here,” said Brooke Thurston, a company spokeswoman.

On Monday, after a five-day trial, a Suffolk Superior jury announced it believed Liang was negligent in his care and treatment of Kace, which was a substantial contributing factor in his death. They found that $2.925 million would fully and fairly compensate Lynn Kace for the loss of her son. With interest, this amounts to $4.8 million, said Higgins.

While the award by the jury is significant, there have been larger verdicts in medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts, including a 2005 case in which a jury awarded nearly $40 million to the family of a Dracut boy born with severe brain damage after a traumatic delivery.

Globe correspondent Derek J. Anderson contributed to this report. Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jacktemp
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