On October 14th, a Bridgeport Connecticut jury awarded plaintiff Virginia Schneider $24.9 million dollars for a 2009 incident in which doctors failed to provide timely treatment of a blood clot in her leg, forcing her to undergo an amputation below the knee at age 18.
The award consisted of nearly $20.7 million dollars for pain and suffering. As well as a $4.2 million dollar award for medical expenses and other economic damages.
Schneider’s story began with an asthma attack in November of 2009, for which she sought care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut. While at the hospital, Schneider also complained of numbness and pain in her left leg.
Testing on her leg revealed the presence of a blood clot, and the hospital contacted Dr. Marsel Huribal, a vascular surgeon who was on-call at the time. Without seeing Schneider in person, Dr. Huribal ordered further testing and ultimately sent her home over the phone. Planning a follow-up visit scheduled at his office three days later.
According to Mesner-Hage, quoted in The Connecticut Law Tribune, Dr. Huribal should have indicated that Schneider required immediate care in order to avoid further injury.
“At that point, she needed to be admitted, and it was not safe to release her.”
Over the next few days Schneider’s condition continued to deteriorate, eventually forcing doctors to amputate her left leg below the knee.
In assigning fault to the various defendants in the case, the jury found Dr. Huribal was 60% responsible, while the rest of the blame was laid on other physicians and Griffin Hospital.
According to Mesner-Hage, the jury responded to the testimony of Schneider, who provided “… a window into what it is like to be a 25-year-old amputee.”
“She was a highly active and athletic person before this,” Mesner-Hage went on to say “and of course this is a lifelong injury.”
The trial, which lasted five weeks, saw the defense attempt to minimize Dr. Huribal’s personal involvement in Schneider’s care. Claiming the fact that he only consulted on her case via phone meant that they did not have a doctor-patient relationship.
The defense, represented by Timothy Grady of Halloran & Sage, said that he plans to appeal the verdict. Consequently, the the doctor-patient relationship between Schneider and Dr. Huribal will likely become a key point of contention.
Mesner-Hage, quoted in The Connecticut Law Tribune, argues that the jury understood the importance of Dr. Huribal’s involvement in her care.
“He was the expert on the phone, and this case goes to the question of ‘where does the buck stop?’ The jury is saying that the buck stops with the specialist. The emergency room doctors are generalists and don’t have the same level of expertise as the specialist.”
The other defendants in the case had reached settlements with Schneider before the trial.