On August 31st, a jury in Dallas awarded a $19.7 million verdict against Dr. Jennifer Marye Burris and Acute Surgical Care Specialists PLLC of Plano, Texas over the death of Katina Clark (29). She was left without oxygen for 35 minutes after her breathing tube was dislodged by hospital staff.
The verdict was awarded to Clark’s husband, Caden Clark, who survives her along with the couple’s two young children.
The award included $3 million for loss of companionship, $2 million for mental anguish, $2.1 for pecuniary loss, nearly $1.2 million for medical expenses, more than $7.5 million for damages sustained in the past and future, as well as an additional $5 million for pain and mental anguish.
Clark’s road to injury began on June 30th, 2013; when she was first seen at the emergency room at Medical Center Arlington, where she had worked as a surgical technician since 2005.
Clark was given a diagnosis of paresthesia, which poses few long-term health risks. She was discharged with a single dose of steroids. Just a few days later, Clark was back at the emergency room, with new complaints of shortness of breath and a progression of numbness along her legs.
It was at this point that Clark was given her final diagnosis: Guillain-Barre syndrome. This is a rare disease in which the patient’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, causing temporary weakness.
After the disease began to affect Clark’s ability to breathe, she was given a breathing tube that was placed through her trachea. The tube would allow doctors to mechanically ventilate Clark’s lungs until she could breathe on her own.
When this breathing tube was first placed, doctors noted the presence of an air leak in the tube. However nothing was done to solve the problem. In fact, the leak had reduced airflow to Clark’s lungs to nearly half of what it should have been.
The main injury, however, did not occur until the morning after the procedure to place the breathing tube. That morning, a member of the hospital’s nursing staff repositioned Clark in bed; at which point her breathing tube was dislodged entirely.
For 35 minutes, Clark was left without oxygen, leaving her severely and permanently brain damaged. She would go on to languish in a coma for a year and a half before dying on January 18, 2015.
The Clark family was represented by attorneys Chris Hamilton and Stephen Blackburn of Standly Hamilton. According to Hamilton, quoted in an August 31st article published by The Dallas Morning News, the defendant doctor’s refusal to settle the case was behind the verdict’s large size.
According to Hamilton “The doctor refused to accept responsibility…I think that was a driver of the jury’s verdict.”