Late last month, a Philadelphia jury awarded Andrea Tate, 57, $44.1 million dollars in her case against the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The largest verdict reported in the state of Pennsylvania this year.
After a 13-day trial, jurors in Tate et al. v. Hospital of University of Pennsylvania et al. found that a massive cerebral hemorrhage that left Tate bedridden and largely paralyzed was caused by negligence on behalf of her treating physician and the hospital itself. Thus finding the defendants 35% and 65% liable respectively.
Tate’s injuries were caused by the drug heparin. A widely used anticoagulation treatment that requires careful monitoring in order to prevent “the heparin effect”. This causes a patient’s blood to thin at levels that may lead to hemorrhaging and other complications.
On September 17, 2011, four days after Tate drove herself to the hospital to have a benign mass removed from her head, doctors began to administer the drug every eight hours. This was in order to prevent postoperative blood clots.
By September 22, Tate began to show signs of the cranial bleeding that would eventually cause her substantial neurological injuries.
According to one of Tate’s lawyers, Robert Ross of Ross Feller Casey, LLP, doctors knew that the heparin was causing dangerous changes to her blood chemistry. However, they failed to take steps that might have prevented injury.
Ross said that doctors knew that results of Tate’s APTT test, a standard measure of blood’s clotting ability, “went from the bottom of the reference range to the top” a few days after her surgery. Yet they failed to take action.
According to Ross, doctors “needed to begin serious testing and stop the heparin but instead, they stopped testing and continued the heparin and three days later she manifested neurological changes signaling the brain bleed.”
Tate’s injuries as a result of this failure are permanently debilitating. According to the complaint, the hemorrhage caused profound brain damage. It also caused a loss of control in her bowels and bladder, musculoskeletal injuries, a permanent tracheotomy, as well as blood clots in her brain.
Her injuries have left her unable to work. They have forced her husband, Dwight Tate, to quit his job to care for her full time.
According to a pretrial memo, Tate’s lawyers claimed that she was “left with a catastrophic brain injury, unable to walk, toilet, feed herself, or do much of anything other than lay in a hospital bed and suffer.”. The document went on to say “Her husband, Dwight Tate, spends his days caring for his wife as best he can, nursing her by hand every day and night.”
The $44.1 million dollar award includes $17 million dollars in non-economic damages for Tate’s pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other injuries not directly related to her physical incapacitation. An additional $5.7 million was awarded to Tate’s husband for loss of consortium.
The jury’s award also took Tate’s ongoing medical expenses into consideration. Estimating her remaining life expectancy to be 23 years, the jury found her medical costs would begin at $498,643 dollars for the first year. They would eventually balloon to $1.2 million dollars a year by 2039.
According to court documents, plaintiff counsel called a number of expert witnesses to assist in winning the verdict for their client. Specialties represented to argue causation included neurology, physiatry, and hematology. Additional experts in critical care medicine were called to testify regarding standard of care.
Plaintiff counsel also called at least two experts. One in life care planning and another in economics testified on damages.
According to Tate’s attorneys, who demanded $31 million in damages before the verdict was passed down, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania had offered $15 million dollars to settle the case.
This represents the largest verdict handed down in the state of Pennsylvania since a 2014 case against St. Luke’s University Hospital in Lehigh County. In that case, the hospital was ordered to pay $55 million in damages to a child. He had suffered severe injuries during birth due to a botched delivery.
Counsel for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is expected to appeal the decision.