The son of a Milford man who died in 2017 following an injury from his snow blower has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both of Bangor's hospitals. Credit: Colleen McGrath / The Herald-Mail via AP

The son of a man who died in late 2017 from complications of a ruptured spleen caused when he was struck in the abdomen by the handle of his snow blower has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both of Bangor’s hospitals and two medical providers. 

The complaint claims that Herbert T. Pelletier, 86, of Milford was not properly diagnosed and that delays in treatment led to his death. He was injured on Dec. 13, 2017, and died about two weeks later on Dec. 28, 2017, at what is now Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. 

His son, Gary M. Pelletier, 69, of Eddington, is seeking unspecified damages on behalf of his father’s estate.

The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 15 in Penobscot County Superior Court by Pelletier’s attorney, Owen Pickus of Kennebunk.

The defendants are Paul Ouellette, a physician assistant, and his employer St. Joseph Hospital as well as Dr. Khaldoun Bekdache and his employer, EMMC. In answers to the complaint filed the following week, attorneys for the defendants denied responsibility for Herbert Pelletier’s death.

“We provide high quality care and stand behind our physicians who provide that care,” Suzanne Spruce, spokesperson for EMMC parent organization Northern Light Health, said Tuesday. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Pelletier.”

A spokesperson for St. Joseph Hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The elder Pelletier was operating his snowblower on Dec. 13, 2017, when it got caught on a piece of ice, the complaint said. That caused the handle of the machine to hit him on the left side of his abdomen.

Six days later, Herbert Pelletier called his primary care physician, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, complaining of pain in his left side. His doctor advised him to go to the emergency room.

At St. Joseph Hospital’s emergency room, Ouellette examined Herbert Pelletier and ordered a CT scan and blood tests, the complaint said. It allegedly showed enlargement of the spleen but no active bleeding, and fluid in the pelvis that could contain blood.

Ouellette called Bekdache, a trauma surgeon at EMMC, to consult with him on further treatment. Ouellette allegedly said that Herbert Pelletier “looked fine” and was “very stable.” The surgeon did not disagree with Ouellette’s recommendation that the patient be released and instructed to follow up with his primary care physician.

On Dec. 24, 2017, Herbert Pelletier was having trouble breathing and his wife called an ambulance, the complaint said. He was again taken to St. Joseph Hospital. 

A CT of his abdomen showed that the spleen had ruptured and was hemorrhaging. Herbert Pelletier was transferred to EMMC, where his condition allegedly worsened over the next few days. He died at 9:02 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2017, of a lacerated spleen and blunt force trauma to the abdomen, the complaint said.

A trial date has not been set. If a settlement is not reached, it is unlikely a trial could be held for at least a year as the court system has prioritized criminal cases over most civil matters due to a case backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.