Posted by Bill Sandweg.
Here is another large malpractice award that sounds excessive but is probably not. The facts, as they almost always are in these cases, are sad.
A twelve-year-old girl underwent a heart transplant in 2007 at a Seattle children’s hospital. In 2013, her doctors concluded that a stent in one of her coronary arteries needed to be replaced. Stents are small tubes that are used to prop open blood vessels. As it turned out, more than one stent was needed but the hospital did not have enough to complete the operation. The surgeons had to keep the young woman under anesthesia while they called around to another hospital looking for more stents. Extending the operation in this way increased the risk that the young woman would have a stroke from blood clots reaching her brain.
Later, in the recovery room, she began showing signs of having a stroke but no one tested her to see if that was what was happening. She was indeed having a stroke. It was of the type that, had it been recognized in time, could have been treated with drugs to break up the clots that were depriving her brain of oxygen before permanent damage was done. By the time the doctors and nurses recognized that she had stoked, it was too late to avoid permanent damage. The young woman is now 22, brain damaged and unable to care for herself.
This case presents all of the factors that lead to large jury verdicts. In the first place, the negligence was clear and not hard to understand. Any Boy Scout (or Girl Scout) will tell you to “Be Prepared.” It would seem pretty common sense that, before you begin a procedure of this sort, you have all of the equipment you might need. The surgeons and the hospital did not do that and exposed the patient to an increased risk of stroke.
Secondly, when she did stroke, no one was paying attention. She was not tested for stroke and the opportunity to save her brain was missed. Two big medical errors that the average juror can understand easily.
Thirdly, the young woman will never be able to care for herself in the future. She will need substantial medical care and require living assistance for the remainder of her days. She will need lots of money in the future to pay for that care. Based on my past experience, the cost of her future care needs may very well have exceeded the nearly $14 million the jury awarded her.
So, to sum up, we have two clearly negligent events that are easily understood, a young life permanently ruined and large, future medical and other care expenses. Mix these together and a large jury verdict is likely.
Finally, a note of caution. If you have been following this blog, you know that large verdicts like this are attacked at multiple levels and are frequently reduced, either by the courts or by a compromise with the victim to avoid a lengthy appeal and a possible new trial. One thing you can count on is that, if the verdict is reduced, the reduction will not be accompanied by the fanfare associated with the original verdict. Very few members of the public will ever know that this young woman did not receive the money the jury awarded her.