After a twelve year lawsuit (which includes a mistrial and appeals), the verdict is in. The estate of a thirty-nine year old man has been awarded $1.45 million in punitive damages.
The man, a paraplegic due to a shooting as a teenager, presented to a hospital in 1999, complaining of abdominal pain, protracted constipation, and vomiting. He was given pain medication and an enema, and discharged. He returned the next day with severe abdominal pain after having vomited blood all night. Despite lab work which indicated that he was critically ill, the hospital discharged him. The man died several hours later, of peritonitis and a ruptured peptic ulcer.
The hospital, two physicians, a physician’s assistant, and three nurses were sued, accused of failing to pay proper attention to the man’s symptoms and the blood test results which indicated the severity of his illness. The hospital was further accused of “patient dumping,” the illegal practice of turning away an uninsured or under-insured person in need of emergency care. The lawsuit claimed that the man, who had a criminal record, was told that the police would be called if he returned to the hospital.
The hospital, who has denied this claim all along, intends to appeal….and the twelve year lawsuit continues. Last month, I wrote on the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog about a medical malpractice case that resolved after 17 years after the injury. It is easy to echo the trite narrative about the injustice of how much time it takes to bring about justice in some cases. Typically, it is really not anyone’s fault. Sure, the system could move faster but there is hardly inertia to double the size of appellate courts to move the ball along faster. But I do think that personal injury lawyers representing innocent victims have to keep in mind that when it comes to pushing the case forward, we have to be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.