In one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in U.S. history, a Florida (FL) jury awarded over $200 million to a man who was left brain injured and disabled after emergency room personnel misdiagnosed a stroke as a headache. Ironically, shortly after this malpractice occurred, the Florida (FL) legislature changed their law to impose caps on medical malpractice cases, which would have prevented the compensation to this injured man as awarded by the jury. The injured person in this malpractice case is no longer able to play or communicate with his 10 year old son. The devastating economic and emotional losses suffered by this family happened in a context which is not uncommon in hospitals.
Essentially, the patient came in to an emergency room with classic symptoms of stroke. These included a sudden pop in his head before the onset of a headache, together with dizziness, nauseous, confusion and unsteadiness on his feet. The injured man also had a family history of strokes. Unfortunately, the emergency room personnel simply treated this as a sinus infection/headache case and sent the man home with a pain killer and some antibiotics. Medical experts testified that if the client’s brain swelling had been checked earlier, the damage to his body would have been much less severe. He lost a substantial possibility of a relatively normal life as a result of being sent home misdiagnosed.
Just the other day, I received a call from a man who had a very similar experience. He had all the classic signs of stroke as confirmed by his daughter. She even asked the doctor in the emergency room whether stroke was a possibility. The doctor treated the case as one of vertigo and sent the pain home with a prescription for an anti-dizziness drug. Now this gentleman is no longer able to write, among other deficits. It seems like there is a common thread of medical error in these malpractice cases.
Interestingly, in the Florida (FL) case, almost by surprising chance, the lawyer for the injured man and his family discovered that the doctor did not even do the physical examination notated in the emergency room records. Rather, the actual examination was done by a physician’s assistant, who is not licensed to make those medical diagnoses. From the chart, it would appear that the doctor had either done the examination himself or redone it after the physician’s assistant. However, the doctor indicated that this was not the case. Such damning testimony might never have come to light had the attorney for the defense not withdraw from the case citing ethical conflicts. The ethical conflict must have been that he knew that one of his clients or witnesses was going to lie about this fact. The plaintiff’s lawyer wisely then redeposed the witnesses and discovered this highly incriminating evidence of the medical error. The diagnosis was missed because the evaluation was not even done by a doctor.
The field of medical malpractice is an especially complex area of injury law for attorneys. The cases are extremely labor intensive requiring many more hours of research, preparation and discovery than routine cases, such as automobile wrecks. The medical malpractice case also requires high expenses, which are normally advanced by the plaintiff’s attorney on behalf of his client who can typically not afford to spend $50,000.00 to pursue the matter. I tip my hat to this persistent and lucky plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in the Florida (FL) case. I read about the case in a national publication for small firm attorneys called Lawyers U.S.A., which is available at www.lawyersusaonline.com.