Cullen to be implicated in another lawsuit

Of The Morning Call

The two sons of a woman who died while under the care of nurse Charles Cullen at St. Luke's Hospital filed court documents Wednesday announcing their intention to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Marilyn J. Hall, 66, of Phillipsburg died unexpectedly on Nov. 20, 2001, while under Cullen's care following surgery for a circulatory problem, said family attorney John Vivian, who filed a civil summons in Northampton County Court against St. Luke's and six other hospitals.

Hall is the third patient to die at St. Luke's during Cullen's tenure whose family has taken legal action against the Fountain Hill hospital.

The civil filings have come after Cullen was arrested in December and charged with murder in the 2003 death of the Rev. Florian Gall and attempted murder for allegedly administering an overdose of the drug digoxin to Jin Kyung Han. They were patients at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J.

Investigators said Cullen has told them he killed as many as 40 patients during his 16-year career. He has become the subject of investigations in seven counties in two states, including Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Vivian said Hall left the operating room at St. Luke's on Nov. 20 with strong vital signs and in good condition, was taken to the critical care unit, placed under Cullen's care and died a half-hour later.

''She went to the CCU under Charles Cullen's care and within half an hour he called in a code blue,'' Vivian said.

St. Luke's spokeswoman Susan Schantz said the hospital has no information on the Hall civil action and could not comment.

The civil summons is filed on behalf of Hall's sons, Robert of Allen Township and Leslie of Upper Mount Bethel Township. They could not be reached Wednesday.

It names St. Luke's Hospital, Warren Hospital, Hunterdon Medical Center, Morristown Memorial Hospital, Liberty Nursing Center, Lehigh Valley Hospital and Easton Hospital — where Cullen worked before being hired by St. Luke's in June 2000 — as defendants.

Vivian said Hall's family members came to him last week with concerns that their mother may have been a victim of Cullen.

''There just seemed to be no explanation that their mother died, other than the fact that she was 66 and had some heart problems,'' Vivian said.

The forthcoming lawsuit could face one major obstacle: It has been filed after the two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death malpractice claims in Pennsylvania.

Vivian said he plans to argue that Cullen is an agent of the hospital, and that the lawsuit should be allowed because he fraudulently attempted to cover up his misdeeds.

Vivian said he named the other hospitals because they could have stopped Cullen before he was hired by St. Luke's.

According to her obituary, Hall was a former waitress and bartender at the Union Hotel in Flemington, N.J., and before that at the Sergeantsville Inn in New Jersey.

Besides her sons, she had two daughters, 12 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

The families of Virginia Buttillo, 83, who died at St. Luke's in January 2002 following a leg amputation, and Debra A. Shachter, 41, who died at St. Luke's in the same month following brain surgery, also have filed civil summonses naming a series of hospitals as defendants.

Luis Ramos and his wife, Itsa, of Allentown, have filed a civil summons against St. Luke's alleging that Cullen caused him to go into a coma following surgery in January 2002. Ramos survived, but is permanently disabled.

The family of Ottomar Schramm, who died in December 1998 in Easton Hospital, is pursuing a civil lawsuit against that hospital and other defendants.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has named Cullen a suspect in Schramm's death.

scott.kraus@mcall.com

610-559-2146

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