New Mexico Man Recovers $7.75M in Pressure Sore Malpractice Claim

Medical Scandal: Hospitals Fail to Report Bad DoctorsA New Mexico jury awarded $7.75 million to a 44-year-old man who developed severe pressure ulcers due to negligent treatment in intensive care.

Tom Rhodes Law Firm P.C. served as co-counsel for the subsequent injury claim, Case No. D-202-cv-2012-04942 in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque).

Co-counsel included attorneys Tom Rhodes and Robert Brzezinski of Tom Rhodes Law Firm P.C. and attorneys Randi McGinn and A. Elicia Montoya of McGinn, Carpenter, Montoya & Love, P.A.

The $7.75 million jury award against Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque was composed of:

  • $4 million award to the plaintiff for compensatory damages.
  • $1.5 million award to the plaintiff’s wife-turned-caretaker, Tammy Lee Bruyere, for compensatory damages of her own.
  • a $2.25 million punitive damage award to both plaintiffs.

Wound develops in 6 days

The plaintiff, Michael Webb, was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital in 2011. He remained in a semi-conscious state for many days and depended on the medical staff at Presbyterian for all of his care needs. Within only six days, a skin wound had developed on his sacrum due to a general lack of repositioning of his body while he was unable to reposition himself. Five days later, a wound care specialist examined the wound and found that it had become a severe Stage 4 pressure ulcer.

The plaintiff’s attorneys focused on Presbyterian Hospital’s own patient safety policies and procedures for a significant portion of the trial. Its regulations require patients who are at risk for pressure sores to be repositioned once every two hours, or more frequently if necessary, with the specific intent of preventing pressure ulcers from forming.

Due to generally neglectful care, Mr. Webb was left in the same position for long stretches at a time. The end result was the formation of a large, painful pressure ulcer that required additional medical treatment, including painful debridement processes that removed skin, flesh, and damaged tissue in large amounts. His ulcer has still not fully healed.

Jurors who spoke with legal counsel after the verdict was given noted that the multimillion award was not only to fairly compensate the plaintiff but to also reinforce the need for adequate patient safety training at Presbyterian Hospital and other medical groups.

80 Organizations Write to House Leaders Opposing Med Mal Nursing Home Drug Bill

Paul Ryan, Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives

Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives

Re: Groups Urge You to Vote NO on H.R. 1215.

Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

The undersigned consumer, health, labor, legal and public interest groups strongly oppose H.R. 1215: The “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017.” This bill would limit the legal rights of injured patients and families of those killed by negligent health care. The bill’s sweeping scope covers not only cases involving medical malpractice, but also cases involving unsafe drugs and nursing home abuse and neglect.

Even if H.R. 1215 applied only to doctors and hospitals, recent studies clearly establish that its provisions would lead to more deaths and injuries, and increased health care costs due to a “broad relaxation of care.”[1] Add to this nursing home and pharmaceutical industry liability limitations, significantly weakening incentives for these industries to act safely, and untold numbers of additional death, injuries and costs are inevitable and unacceptable.

The latest statistics show that medical errors, most of which are preventable, are the third leading cause of death in America. This intolerable situation is perhaps all the more shocking because we already know about how to fix much of this problem. Congress should focus on improving patient safety and reducing deaths and injuries, not insulating negligent providers from accountability, harming patients and saddling taxpayers with the cost, as H.R. 1215 would do.

H.R. 1215 limits medical malpractice litigation in state and federal courts by capping awards and attorney fees, modifying the statute of limitations, and eliminating joint and several liability.

For example, this bill would establish a permanent across-the-board $250,000 “cap” on compensation for “non-economic damages” in medical malpractice cases. Such caps are unfair and discriminatory. For example, University of Buffalo Law Professor Lucinda Finley has written, “certain injuries that happen primarily to women are compensated predominantly or almost exclusively through noneconomic loss damages. These injuries include sexual or reproductive harm, pregnancy loss, and sexual assault injuries.”

Also, “[J]uries consistently award women more in noneconomic loss damages than men … [A]ny cap on noneconomic loss damages will deprive women of a much greater proportion and amount of a jury award than men. Noneconomic loss damage caps, therefore, amount to a form of discrimination against women and contribute to unequal access to justice or fair compensation for women.”[2]

Other provisions in H.R. 1215 are just as problematic. The proposed federal statute of limitations, more restrictive than a majority of state laws, lacks complete logic from a deficit reduction angle since its only impact would be to cut off meritorious claims, forcing patients to turn to the government for care. The bill would repeal joint and several liability even though the Congressional Budget Office says this could increase, not lower, costs.

H.R. 1215 would overturn traditional state common law and would be an unprecedented interference with the work of state court judges and juries in civil cases. Its one-way preemption of state law provisions that protect patients (there are some exceptions) makes clear that the intent of this legislation is not to make laws uniform in the 50 states. Rather, it is a carefully crafted bill to provide relief and protections for the insurance, medical and drug industries, at the expense of patient safety. We urge you to oppose H.R. 1215: The “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017.”  Thank you.

Very sincerely,

NATIONAL GROUPS

AFL-CIO
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers
Aging Life Care Association
Alliance for Justice
Alliance for Retired Americans
American Association for Justice
American Association of Directors of Nursing Services
American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination
Annie Appleseed Project
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Brain Injury Association of America
Center for Independence
Center for Justice & Democracy
Center for Medicare Advocacy
Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Communication Workers of America
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Consumer Watchdog
Daily Kos
Families for Better Care
Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association
Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing
Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings
Justice in Aging
Leahslegacy.org
Long Term Care Community Coalition
Mothers Against Medical Error
NALLTCO, National Association of Local Long Term Care Ombudsman
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care
National Center for Health Research (NCHR)
National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care
National Consumers League
National Disability Rights Network
National Education Association
National Gerontological Nursing Association
National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association
National Women’s Health Network
Nursing Home Victim Coalition, Inc.
Our Mother’s Voice
Patient Safety America
Public Citizen
Public Justice
Public Justice Center
Public Law Center
Quinolone Vigilance Foundation
The Empowered Patient Coalition
The Impact Fund
United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union
United Spinal Association
Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER)

STATE GROUPS

Arkansas State Independent Living Council
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform
Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly (PA)
Chatham Advisory Committee for Long Term Care Adult Care Homes and Family Care Homes (NC)
Citizen Action/Illinois
Connecticut Center for Patient Safety
Disability Rights Center of Kansas
Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice of Rochester (NY)
Friends of Residents in Long Term Care (NC)
Greater Boston Legal Services, on behalf of our clients (MA)
Idaho Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
InterHab, Inc. (KS)
Iowa Statewide Independence Living Council (SILC)
Kansas ADAPT
Kansas Advocates for Better Care
LTC Ombudsman Services of San Luis Obispo County (CA)
Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform
Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
Montana Independent Living Project, Inc.
NYPIRG
PULSE of Colorado
Residential Facilities Advisory Committee, State of Oregon
Rhode Island Long Term Care Ombudsman Office
Texas Watch
Voices for Quality Care (LTC) (MD & DC)
Washington Advocates for Patient Safety
Washington Civil & Disability Advocate
WISE & Health Aging (CA)


 

[1] See, Bernard S. Black, David A. Hyman and Myungho Paik, “Damage Caps and Defensive Medicine, Revisited,” J. Health Econ. (January 2017); Bernard S. Black and Zenon Zabinski, “The Deterrent Effect of Tort Law: Evidence from Medical Malpractice Reform,” Northwestern University Law & Economics Research Paper No. 13-09 (July 2014).

[2] Lucinda M. Finley, “The Hidden Victims Of Tort Reform: Women, Children, And The Elderly,” Emory Law Journal, 53 Emory L.J. 1263, Summer, 2004.

House Passes Medical Malpractice Bill with $250K Damage Cap

The US House of Representatives just passed a bill that caps medical malpractice lawsuits by limiting plaintiff damages to $250,000.

The House passed the Protecting Access to Care Act, which favors insurance companies over injured plaintiffs, by 218-210.

If the bill were to become law, it would create limits on attorney fees and a three-year statute of limitations. It would apply to healthcare lawsuits that involve coverage provided through a federal program such as Medicare or Medicaid or to coverage that is partly paid for by a government subsidy or tax benefit.

Critics said the anti-consumer legislation will inappropriately limit the compensation of plaintiffs who file a health care lawsuit and increase medical errors.

Democrats said the bill is intended to give a tax break to health insurance companies. A Congressional Budget Office score of the bill projected that it mainly lowering premiums for malpractice insurance.

H.R. 1215 limits medical malpractice litigation in state and federal courts by capping awards and attorney fees, modifying the statute of limitations, and eliminating joint and several liability.

The Republican-led effort is part of their plan to gut Obamacare.

Apologists of the bill claimed it would limit unnecessary medical tests and healthcare costs.

During floor debate, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, defended the bill as a necessary move for reining in healthcare spending. His most bogus argument was that doctors conduct unnecessary tests out of fear that a patient will sue them.

On Tuesday, 80 organizations sent a letter to House leaders urging them to oppose the bill.

“Even if [the bill] applied only to doctors and hospitals, recent studies clearly establish that its provisions would lead to more deaths and injuries, and increased healthcare costs due to a ‘broad relaxation of care,'” they wrote. “Add to this nursing home and pharmaceutical industry liability limitations, significantly weakening incentives for these industries to act safely, and untold numbers of additional death, injuries and costs are inevitable and unacceptable.”

The White House’s senior advisers have recommended that President Trump sign the bill into law, and it was included as a potential area of reform in Trump’s budget request.

Infographic: The History of Medical Malpractice

The history of medical malpractice is a lengthy one, spanning from ancient times with the Hippocratic Oath to the numerous reforms in the 20th Century and continuing to today. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.

The timeline below was created by the folks at Weiss & Paarz to give readers on The National Trial Lawyers an overview of the subject.

“We wanted to give an overall history of medical malpractice and how it relates to the law. That history is a lengthy one, spanning back to Hammurabi and some of the first written law codes. Since then, with so many changes in recent history, we thought it was important to give a historical background. While there are many more events that helped shape modern medical malpractice, these are some of the most influential,” says Naomi Anderson, a member of the marketing team at Weiss & Paarz.

“Medical malpractice is a serious topic that deserves to be treated as such. Nevertheless, we wanted to provide a more accessible way for people of all ages to learn about the history behind it. That is why we chose to go with eye-catching illustrations that entice the viewer to keep reading and keep learning,” Naomi Anderson, a member of the marketing team at Weiss & Paarz.”

Infant Recovers $33.8 million in Traumatic Brain Injury Case

Plaintiff attorney Vidian Mallard of Mallard & Sharp

Plaintiff attorney Vidian Mallard of Mallard & Sharp

Medical malpractice attorneys of Mallard & Sharp, P.A. recently celebrated a bittersweet victory, recovering a $33.8 million verdict for a brain damaged baby.

The court held that the catastrophic brain injury was caused by Dr. Ata Atogho’s failure to order an emergency C-section and the continued administration of the contraindicated delivery drug Pitocin. The court also found that Dr. Atogho’s failure to offer and perform a C-section was gross negligence and caused the brain injury that resulted in baby Earl Reese-Thornton requiring 24-hour care for the rest of his life.

Dr. Atogho was employed by the federally funded Jessie Trice Community Health Center, placing the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

“The Court cannot imagine a more devastating turn of events for parents expecting the birth of their first child… At the anticipated, joyful moment of birth of a crying, bouncing baby, they are instead presented with the dreadful specter of a blue, floppy, lifeless child.”

During the 90 minutes that baby Earl was in an emergent condition, Dr. Atogho delivered another baby and took an 8-minute call from his stock broker. Dr. Atogho created a false entry in the medical chart stating that the mother declined a C-section, but evidence from other witnesses proved that Dr. Atogho never offered the C-section and that a C-section was requested.

“This is a tragic case,” said attorney Vidian Mallard of Mallard & Sharp. “While it is impossible to change what has occurred to this family, it is satisfying that baby Earl’s medical and financial needs will be met for the rest of his life. The Court’s verdict clearly states that Dr. Atogho’s negligence caused baby Earl’s injury, but the U.S. Government has not accepted responsibility and has threatened an appeal. Meanwhile, baby Earl continues to suffer without getting all the care he so desperately needs.”

In his order, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola wrote: “the Court cannot imagine a more devastating turn of events for parents expecting the birth of their first child… At the anticipated, joyful moment of birth of a crying, bouncing baby, they are instead presented with the dreadful specter of a blue, floppy, lifeless child.”

The Florida personal injury law firm of Mallard & Sharp, P.A. is AV Rated and dedicated to providing the best possible results for all its clients. The judge’s order is available for download here or at www.lawsuitpressrelease.com.

Colorado Woman, Paralyzed by Medical Malpractice, Recovers $14.9 Million

Bruce Braley of Leventhal & Puga PC in Denver, CO.

Bruce Braley of Leventhal & Puga PC in Denver, CO.

A Colorado jury awarded a 57-year old woman and her husband $14.9 million in a case whereas she was paralyzed by an epidural steroid injection that was clearly labeled as not for that use.

The jury found The Surgery Center in Lone Tree, CO, liable.

The plaintiff, Robbin Smith of Castle Rock, CO, was 57 when she received the injection of Kenalog in 2013. She was immediately paralyzed from the waist down.

Two years before she got the injection, Bristol-Myers Squibb got FDA approval to change its label for Kenalog to state: “Not for Epidural Use.”

“This verdict won’t restore Robbin’s ability to walk,” attorney Bruce Braley of Leventhal & Puga told the Denver Business Journal. “But it will give Robbin and Ed the chance to make the most of the life they now have.”

Smith’s attorneys showed the jury examples of bottles, packages, and labels with the printed warning. The warning label included language describing the adverse reaction that paralyzed Smith: “Spinal cord infarction, paraplegia, quadriplegia, cortical blindness and stroke (including brainstem), have been reported after epidural administration of corticosteroids.”

Doctors never informed Smith of these label warnings.

Study: Fewer Medical Malpractice Claims, But Increase in Awards

Adam Schaffer, MD, a hospitalist at BWH and lead author of the paper.

Adam Schaffer, MD, a hospitalist at BWH and lead author of the paper.

Using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a centralized database of paid malpractice claims that was created by Congress in 1986, physicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed the trends in paid medical malpractice claims for physicians in the United States from 1992 to 2014.

“We’ve found that there was an overall drop in the amount of paid claims across all specialties, but that the magnitude of the decline was markedly different by specialty,” said Adam Schaffer, MD, a hospitalist at BWH and lead author of the paper.

This is the first analysis to evaluate paid claims by physician specialty at the national level. The findings are published in the March 27, 2017, issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers report that the overall rate of claims paid on behalf of all physicians dropped by 55.7 percent. Pediatricians had the largest decline, at 75.8 percent, and cardiologists had the smallest, at 13.5 percent. After adjusting for inflation, researchers found that the amount of the payment increased by 23.3 percent and was also dependent on specialty. Neurosurgery had the highest mean payment, and dermatology had the lowest. The percentage of payments exceeding $1 million also increased during the same time period.

“Previous research has shown that physicians’ perceptions of their risk of liability can influence their clinical decision-making, and a better understanding of the causes of variation among specialties in paid malpractice claims may both improve patient safety and reduce liability risk,” said Allen Kachalia, MD, chief quality officer at BWH and senior author of the study.

Error in diagnosis

Additionally, the authors report that the most common type of allegation was an error in diagnosis (31.8 percent of all paid claims), followed by errors related to surgery (26.9 percent) and errors related to medication or treatment (24.5 percent). Thirty-two percent of paid claims were related to a patient death, with pulmonologists most likely to be involved in a claim that involved a patient death. Plastic surgery and dermatology had the highest percentage of claims that were considered low-severity, with minor physical or emotional injury.

“Specialty-specific information about paid claims may help inform decisions about the approaches needed to simultaneously improve patient safety and reduce liability,” write the authors.

They note that their analysis is limited by the information available in the data sets that were used, the NPDB and the American Medical Association Masterfile. The AMA Masterfile provided the number of physicians by specialty, but does not account for clinical volume. The NPDB includes information about claims settled on behalf of individual physicians, but does not include data about claims for which no payment was made and for those settled on behalf of institutions.

Paper cited: Schaffer et. al. “Rates and Characteristics of Paid Malpractice Claims Among US Physicians by Specialty, 1992-2014.” JAMA Internal Medicine. March 27, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0311

$625,000 Jury Verdict for Unnecessary Surgery in Medical Malpractice Case

Plaintiff Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta in Huntingdon Valley, PA.

Plaintiff Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta in Huntingdon Valley, PA.

A federal court jury in Pennsylvania awarded $625,000 in damages to a woman who had unnecessary surgery to remove a non-existent mass, leaving her scarred and unable to have a child.

Following a four-day medical malpractice trial the jury returned a verdict in favor of Natisha Almeida. Natisha Almeida and Bruce Robinson (husband & wife) V. Tuan a Le, MD, Doylestown Women’s Health Center, Paul Jeffrey Adelizzi, M.D., Mark s. Silidker, M.D., Doylestown Hospital.

The jury found Dr. Le was 100% responsible for performing an unnecessary surgery on Natisha Almeida to remove a mass the size of a potato but found nothing. The jury exonerated the wo defendant radiologists.

Liability

Dr. Le, the surgeon, admitted to the plaintiff after the surgery, that he performed a pelvic laparotomy on May 10, 2013 “for nothing.”  

Dr. Le had intended to remove what he called a “mobile mass,” which he believed existed because of the physical exam of his patient by her family physician, the reading of a transvaginal ultrasound by defendant Dr. Paul Adelizzi in which he identified a 3×6 cm solid mass and the reading of a CT by Defendant Mark Silidker, M.D. in which a 3×6 cm mass was confirmed, and that Ms. Almeida felt pelvic pressure.  

“In making this decision, he ignored his own finding of a normal pelvic and rectal exam on April 11, 2014, the normal rectal exam by a GI specialist on April 25, 2013, a normal colonoscopy on May 6, 2013, and he never performed another rectal exam before surgery,” said plaintiff attorney Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta, Huntingdon Valley, PA. He tried the case with attorney Andrew DiPiero, also with his firm.

Dr. Le also ignored a recommendation by Dr. Adelizzi (the ultrasound radiologist) that he get a CT with rectal contrast (he ordered oral contrast instead), the recommendation by Dr. Silidker (CT scan radiologist) that he get an MRI, and the fact that the mass identified by both radiologists was described as being in two different places and that both places described by the radiologists were outside the areas within the purview of a gynecologist.

Plaintiff’s gynecology expert, Richard Luciani, says that given the “uncertain” situation facing Dr. Le, which pointed to either a benign fibroid or a mass of non-gynecologic origin, referral to a general surgeon was “mandated” and that exploratory laparotomy, and its intendant risks, was not indicated.  

Never sent patient for evaluation

Dr. Le said he “discussed” the surgery with a general surgeon named Murray the day before the surgery to confirm a plan that if the mass were a fibroid, he would remove it through a mini-laparotomy, but if “mesenteric,” Murray would remove it.  

He never sent the patient to Dr. Murray for evaluation. He never sent records or films to Dr. Murray.  Dr. Murray denied that any discussion pre-surgery occurred, and if he had been so consulted he would have examined the patient and reviewed studies. Instead, Dr. Murray’s first contact with the Almeida case was when he was summoned into theoperating room by Dr. Le, with the patient under anesthesia and with her abdomen already opened, because Le could not find anything.   

Both radiologists contended that their readings were accurate.  Plaintiff’s expert radiologist, Larry Caputo, M.D., says both radiologists mis-read the studies by interpreting the anterior wall of air filled bowel as a mass.   

The radiology expert for the radiologists, Dr. Chad Brecher, did not testify that the films were read accurately.  Instead, he said since both radiologists expressed uncertainty and requested further studies and did not make the decision to perform surgery, they met the standard of care.  

Dr. Daniel Small testified as Dr. Le’s expert that he was justified in performing surgery based upon the family physician’s physical exam and the reports of the two defendant radiologists.

Damages

The CT scan was done May 8.  Dr. Le called Natisha that day to say she had a tumor the size of a small potato that needed immediate removal.  She, her husband, mother, father and brother met with Dr. Le on May 9th and surgery was performed May 10.  

The scarring outside her body was permanent. What was not known immediately was that the surgery caused scarring inside her body too. That would only be learned once she began receiving treatment to help her conceive.

In February 2016, Dr. Jeffrey Bowers performed an exploratory laparoscopy to evaluate the integrity of her left fallopian tube. He found significant pelvic adhesive disease with occlusion of the left fallopian tube. He lysed adhesions and removed the fallopian tube. This surgery and loss of female anatomy was a direct result of Dr. Le’s unnecessary surgery says Plaintiff’s gynecology expert, Richard Luciani.  

In this regard, it is helpful to know that Dr. Le, in the 2013 surgery, specifically noted in his operative report that he examined the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes and found all to be normal as well as no sign of adhesions or endometriosis.

The defense expert for Dr. Le blamed the development of the adhesions to the plaintiff’s single Chlamydia diagnosis made when she was 20 years old in 2006. However, she rebutted this testimony with evidence that the Chlamydia which was successfully treated with Doxycyclene, and that each chlamydia test thereafter (2010, 2011, 2013) was negative and that Dr. Le himself observed no adhesions and normal tubes in 2013.  

Jury Verdict

The case was tried over 5 days before a Jury of eight persons and Judge Robert Kelly of the US District Court Federal Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Our client had suffered $4,277 wage loss and $11,000 in recoverable medical bills so most of the verdict was for non-economic harms such as pain, loss of life’s pleasures and disfigurement.  The jury awarded $625,000.

Arkansas Jury Awards $46.5 Million to Toddler in Medical Malpractice Case

Stuart N. Ratzan of Ratzan Law Group: Florida Personal Injury Attorneys

Stuart N. Ratzan of Ratzan Law Group, Florida Personal Injury Attorneys

After a two-week trial, a toddler, Kara Smalls received a jury verdict of $46.5 million in compensatory damages against a family doctor, Dr. Jonathan Lewis, employed by Ouachita Valley Family Clinic, a Baptist Health Affiliate in Camden, Arkansas, and also against Ouachita County Medical Center.

The plaintiff was represented by Stuart N. Ratzan and Stuart J. Weissman of Ratzan Law Group, P.A., Miami, FL. Ratzan Law Group was assisted by Jim Lyons of Lyons & Cone, P.A., Jonesboro, AR and Kimberly Boldt and Mario Giommoni of The Boldt Law Firm, Boca Raton, FL. The verdict was entered on March 9, 2017.

Kara Smalls’ parents alleged that medical negligence and failure to properly manage and treat newborn jaundice in their baby immediately after her birth in June 2014 led to the development of kernicterus in baby Kara Smalls’ brain.

The untreated jaundice led to permanent disability and irreversible brain damage. As a result, the child is locked into a body that will never work properly. She cannot walk, talk, feed herself, or care for herself independently, yet she has normal cognitive function. She can think, feel, and emote like a normal child. She will likely be bound to a wheelchair and adaptive walking aids for the rest of her life. She will also require 24 hour care and supervision as well as intensive medical treatment for the remainder of her life.

Kernicterus is a serious condition that can lead to significant brain damage and in severe cases, death. It is imperative for medical personnel to be able to detect the telltale signs of jaundice and treat it promptly. Newborn jaundice is easy to diagnose with a pinprick of blood and simple to treat with phototherapy lights.

Not follow standard of care

Kara Smalls’ parents alleged at trial that the doctor and hospital ignored generally accepted national patient safety guidelines for the management and treatment of newborn jaundice. The national patient safety guidelines were developed in 2004 and 2009, yet the doctor and hospital chose not to adopt or follow the national standard of care. The defendants ignored the high initial bilirubin reading as well as

The defendants ignored the high initial bilirubin reading as well as the jaundice in the first 24 hours of the baby’s life, yet chose not to do any repeat blood testing and not administer phototherapy lights before discharge. After the baby was sent home, her bilirubin blood level got so high that it penetrated her brain and caused profound brain damage.

“The defendants argued at trial that South Arkansas doctors and hospitals are free to ignore the patient safety rules and do what they want; the defendants argued that the standard of care is lower In South Arkansas than the rest of the country,” said Stuart N. Ratzan, lead trial lawyer for the child.

At trial, Ratzan countered that any community where doctors and hospitals deliver babies, and have available to them the technology to test for bilirubin and to provide phototherapy lights, is a community where the patient safety rules apply. The defendant hospital and the defendant doctor in Camden, AR did indeed have the necessary equipment.

The plaintiffs argued, therefore, that the defendant doctor and defendant hospital in Camden, AR, like everyone else in the United States who treats newborn babies, were required to follow the prevailing patient safety rules. The plaintiffs argued that when doctors and hospitals break the patient safety rules anywhere in the United States, including South Arkansas, they should be fully accountable for the consequences.

“We are encouraged by the jury’s commitment to the patient safety rules for South Arkansas, and we are thrilled that the jury devoted itself to a verdict that would provide for Kara Smalls, age 2 1/2, for the rest of her life.  Newborn babies need and deserve competent medical care in all of the United States, whether it’s Ouachita County, AR, Pulaski County, AR, Miami, FL, or anywhere else in the country,” Ratzan said.

The jury found defendants Jonathan Lewis and Ouachita County Medical Center negligent for violating the national guidelines.

Ratzan Law Group, PA is a boutique trial practice that is dedicated to building and retaining a safe society through diligent and sophisticated advocacy.  It champions its clients’ cases against powerful interests, including insurance companies, hospitals, manufacturers, doctors and corporations in order to hold wrongdoers accountable for the harm they do to others, and to help make sure it does not happen again.

Missouri Jury Awards $29 Million for Failure to Diagnose Disease that Caused Brain Damage

Attorney Grant Rahmeyer of Strong-Garner-Bauer P.C. in Springfield, MO.

Attorney Grant Rahmeyer of Strong-Garner-Bauer P.C. in Springfield, MO.

A jury in Springfield, Missouri, awarded $28,911,000 to a woman who suffered brain damage from a rare copper disorder, which a local hospital failed to diagnose. The hospital refused to conduct a full neurological exam and dismissed her symptoms as anxiety.

Emilee Williams, 24, of Springfield, had undiagnosed Wilson’s disease, which causes too much copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other vital organs. A former student-athlete, Williams today suffers paralysis, several motor and speech impairment and must be fed through a tube in her stomach.

“We hope this verdict reminds hospitals to give doctors the time to listen to their patients, listen to their families and to raise awareness for Wilson’s disease so that no one will ever have to go through what Emilee went through,” plaintiff’s attorney Grant Rahmeyer of Strong-Garner-Bauer PC, told Law360.

The Greene County jury awarded:

  • $21 million for future medical damages
  • $3.2 million for future economic damages excluding future medical damages
  • $3.2 million for future non-economic damages
  • $1 million for past non-economic damages
  • $511,000 for past economic damages, including past medical damages

In December 2012 Williams visited Dr. Elene Pilapil complaining of fatigue, tremors, balance problems, insomnia, difficulty concentrating crying spells and panic attacks. The doctor told her she suffered from anxiety, refused to send her for more tests, and wrote a prescription for Prozac.

Eight months later an MRI revealed she had brain damage caused by the disease. When diagnosed early, treatment can prevent the progression of Wilson’s disease.