A Middlesex County Superior Court jury returned a verdict for the highest medical malpractice award of the year. Former Massachusetts construction worker, Steven Luppold, was awarded $20 million after undergoing an amputation due to a misdiagnosed blood clot.
Mr. Luppold, 35, of Lowell, MA presented at the Lowell General Hospital Emergency Department on March 7, 2015, complaining of back pain radiating down to his left leg. While Mr. Luppold had a documented history of sciatica, which is back pain that radiates down the leg, he was concerned because of the discomfort he was experiencing in his left foot.
Mr. Luppold underwent a physical examination at the emergency department. The examination revealed that his left foot was cool and purple. Based upon this examination, physician assistant Charles Loucraft diagnosed Mr. Luppold with worsening sciatica and sent him home without further treatment or examination.
On March 13, 2015, Mr. Luppold returned to the emergency department complaining of pain in his left ankle that rose to the level of 10 on a scale of 1-10. The nurse that examined Mr. Luppold concluded that his complaints were associated with his sciatica.
On March 17, 2015, after experiencing ongoing pain, Mr. Luppold contacted his primary care physician and presented at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. Mr. Luppold underwent an ultrasound, which revealed left leg deep vein thrombosis and arterial thrombosis. Based on this diagnosis, Mr. Luppold was summarily transported to the emergency department. At the emergency department, a vascular surgeon ordered a CT scan that showed that the tissue in his left leg was dying.
On March 18, 2015, Mr. Luppold’s doctors concluded that they had to amputate his leg above the knee.
Mr. Luppold, represented by Robert Higgins, filed a lawsuit against Lowell General Hospital emergency department staff and medical staff for Merrimack Valley Emergency Associates. James Bello represented the Merrimack Valley Emergency Associates medical staff and Peter Kelley represented the Lowell General Hospital emergency department staff.
The suit alleged Mr. Luppold’s left leg was amputated after being twice misdiagnosed with sciatica. According to Mr. Luppold’s attorney, his leg could have been saved if the staff ordered an ultrasound during his first emergency department visit.
The trial was held in Middlesex Superior Court. After two days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of $20 million in favor of Mr. Luppold. The verdict consisted of $10 million for pain and suffering and another $10 million to compensate for the lifetime loss of a leg.
The verdict, the state’s largest medical malpractice award of the year according to data compiled by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, surpassed Mr. Luppold’s request of $16 million. In egregious medical malpractice cases resulting in loss of limb, paralysis, terminal illness, or sterility, jurors are especially sympathetic to plaintiffs. As such, plaintiffs’ attorneys have the ability to demand high awards, particularly in jurisdictions without caps on damages.