Legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong spent the final years of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he died in 2012, at age 82, the city mourned the loss not only of a world-changing adventurer and astronaut, but the loss of one of its own.
Recently released court documents have now revealed that his death was due, at least in part, to post-surgical complications. Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital, on Mack Road in nearby Butler County, was where Armstrong spent his final days. Armstrong’s family had alleged that the care provided by the hospital had cost Armstrong his life, and the court documents show that the hospital settled the family’s lawsuit out of court, in a $6 million confidential agreement.
The $6 million settlement, which happened in 2014, went to ten of Armstrong’s family members — his sister, brother, two sons, and six grandchildren. Armstrong’s widow, Carol Armstrong, did not receive any money in the hospital’s settlement.
Armstrong had been admitted to Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital for vascular bypass surgery in August 2012. After the surgery, complications arose, and he died from those complications.
Immediately following the bypass surgery, Armstrong was up and walking. Carol Armstrong told the Associated Press that he was “amazingly resilient” after the surgery. However, after nurses took out the temporary pacemaker’s wiring, Armstrong started to bleed into the membrane surrounding his heart. This led to further complications, and within a few weeks, Armstrong passed away in the hospital.
In the $5.2 million wrongful death settlement, Armstrong’s brother and sister each received $250,000, and his six grandchildren each received $24,000. After the lawyers’ fees of $160,000, that left approximately $2 million to go each of Armstrong’s sons.
The two sons, Mark and Rick Armstrong, contended that the post-surgical care at Mercy Health was incompetent, according to the New York Times. The hospital settled the matter privately in 2014, after one expert the hospital retained in court admitted that there were evidently serious problems with their post-surgical treatment.
Mercy Health had asked for the settlement to be sealed and for the surviving family to not discuss the matter however, for fear of the negative publicity surrounding their own improper and flawed medical care.
The documents regarding the settlement are available at the Hamilton County Probate Court’s website, including 93 pages covering the differing testimony from medical experts on both sides of the case.
It is a common but nonetheless controversial practice for medical malpractice cases to lead to confidential settlements. The confidentiality protects the reputation of the hospital and health-care providers named in the suit, but prevents the public at large from learning of the potentially deadly health-care malfeasance. These cases of negligence can help the public keep track of facilities with problematic track records, and can increase accountability for public health care issues.
There is some concern that revelation of the “filed under seal” settlement documents will nullify the 2014 settlement.
The lawyer representing Armstrong’s six grandchildren, Bertha Helmick, wrote about the confidentiality clause of the settlement. “If the existence of the wrongful death action and settlement are ever revealed by the parties to the agreement, the entire payment must be repaid in full,” Helmick wrote.
Carol Armstrong, Armstrong’s widow, made it clear in interviews that she received no money in the settlement, and was not involved in the malpractice lawsuit in any way. Karen Armstrong, Armstrong’s former wife, emphasized that all parties are under court-enforced nondisclosure agreements and therefore unable to speak publicly about the matter.