Brooks Cutter and Eric Ratinoff win $7.6 million jury verdict on behalf of a young woman who was rendered a T4 paraplegic due to U.C. Davis Medical Center's failure to diagnose a tumor on her spinal cord.
October 31, 2011
A fourteen year old girl woke up on December 18,2003 with back pain and numbness in her legs. Her mother took her to the pediatrician who then sent her to UC Davis Medical Center for emergency care. There the doctors thought she might have Guillaun Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause ascending paralysis. They also were considering the spine. She was admitted and sent for an MRI in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, 2003. The MRI was read as normal and the doctors treated her for Guillaun Barre. She spent a week in the hospital and gradually regained feeling in her legs and the ability to walk. She was discharged Christmas Day.
She returned to school with some residual weakness, and eventually graduated from high school. That summer she became pregnant.
Five years after the initial incident, on February 1, 2008, she woke up with the same symptoms as in 2003. She was rushed to the Methodist Hospital Emergency Room, where they considered the Guillaun Barre and performed another MRI. This time they saw a mass on the MRI, an arteriovenous malformation, on her thoracic spine that had bled out and damaged her spinal cord. Surgery was performed but it was too late. She was a T4 paraplegic, with no movement below her chest. She had a 3 year old son.
KCR's medical malpractice attorneys employed an expert radiologist at Stanford to look at the 2003 film. He said the mass was actually evident back then and had been missed. In discovery, they also learned that the Radiology Department at Davis had varied from their standard protocol for doing this kind of study, which would have included views in two planes --- sagittal and axial. The study had some axial views of her lower spine but none at this level.
The trial focused on the breach of the standard of care by the Radiology department in failing to take the proper views and failing to identify the mass that was there. UC Davis's expert conceded the mass was there but said it was within the standard of care to miss it. UC Davis postulated that the views hadn't been done because the patient was uncomfortable in the machine but the evidence showed that she was sedated and had no difficulty with the study. UC Davis also blamed the girl's parents for going to her pediatrician instead of back to the neurology department at Davis after discharge, notwithstanding having been instructed to return. They argued that had she returned with her continuing symptoms they would have eventually figured out the misdiagnosis.
The case raised questions about the procedures for ordering studies and making sure they are completed, as well as the manner in which they are read. Her MRI was read by an attending physician, but she simply discussed her findings with a first year resident who was responsible for generating 60-70 reports a day. Nobody involved remembered reading the film, but it was evident that the mass was either just missed, or perhaps it was seen but not accurately reported.
The jury returned a verdict of $200,000 for past non economic loss; $1,000,000 for future non economic loss; $5,519,415 for future medical care; and $904,903 in lost earnings, for a total of $7,624,318. Because of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA), the non economic damages will be reduced to $250,000, pointing out the fundamental inequity of this cap which has been in place, unindexed, for over 30 years.
According to lead attorney Brooks Cutter, "Because of the cap I didn't even ask the jury for a more appropriate general damages number, knowing it would just be reduced. I suggested at least a million and the jury awarded 1.2."
He added, "Overall the jury worked very hard and returned a just verdict that will enable this courageous young woman to move forward with her life independently and pursue further educational opportunities with the care resources that she needs."
The total verdict of $7.6 million is believed to be the largest medical malpractice verdict in Sacramento County history.
Read the press release: Jury Awards Elk Grove Woman $7.6 Million in Spinal Cord Injury Medical Malpractice Case against U.C. Davis Medical Center
10/31/11: Sacramento Business Journal - Elk Grove Woman Wins $7.6 Million in U.C. Davis Malpractice Suit
11/1/11: Sacramento Bee - Sacramento Jury Tells U.C. Davis to Pay $7.6 Million to Paraplegic Woman