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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Jury clears anesthesiologist in Cloninger’s death

A jury absolved anesthesiologist Dr. Kim Chen and Deaconess Hospital of wrongdoing Monday in the 2010 death of Spokane architect Glen Cloninger.

The jury deliberated less than two hours following more than two weeks of trial. Pamela Cloninger sought $12 million in damages for the death of her husband.

After the verdict, Chen said he is looking forward to putting the case behind him, but his “heart continues to go out to Mr. Cloninger’s family.”

“I hope through this process that they have found the answers that have been weighing so heavily on their minds these past two-and-a-half years,” Chen said.

The Cloninger family, although in the courtroom for all of the trial, was not present for the reading of the verdict. Their attorney, Stephen Haskell, declined to comment after the verdict.

The medical malpractice lawsuit accused Chen of not taking proper precautions in managing Cloninger’s airway after a simple kidney stone procedure in 2010.

Chen’s attorney, Dan Keefe, argued the death was unpreventable due to underlying heart disease. He said after Cloninger, 66, was awakened from anesthesia and after his breathing tube was removed, he had two spasms in his airway, the second of which proved fatal. He argued Cloninger was without sufficient oxygen for about two minutes, tolerable by most adults but not by a man with a heart condition.

Haskell had argued previously it was more like eight minutes that Cloninger was deprived of oxygen, leading to hypoxia and brain damage. He said Chen should have anticipated the complications and put Cloninger’s breathing tube back in faster. The lawsuit also alleged heart monitor data should have been saved, although the defense argued no one knew the machines were capable of saving data and had not been set up to do so.

Chen testified in the case but was not cross-examined. Haskell said in his closing arguments Monday that he didn’t think Chen’s record was credible because of more than 180 edits Chen made to it in the days after the surgery. Haskell said he therefore “had to refuse to engage in the process.”

Keefe said Chen “believed from the beginning that he thought his care was appropriate.”

Chen said he had never had anything like this happen in his 13 years in anesthesiology.

“We did take extraordinary efforts to save that man,” Chen said.

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