Jurors side with girl paralyzed after back surgery
By: Scott Lauck email@example.com February 15, 2016
In July 2012, an 11-year-old girl entered Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for scoliosis surgery. She emerged paralyzed from the waist down.
The cause of Ronnie Hamm’s heartbreaking injuries were murky, and hotly contested. Attorneys for Hamm argued it was the result of post-surgical anesthesia gone wrong. Attorneys for the Saint Louis University-employed doctors argued the patient had suffered a stroke.
A St. Louis jury on Jan. 26 sided with the plaintiff and awarded more than $11.5 million, including more than $8 million in noneconomic damages.
Lead plaintiff’s attorney Ted Hoffman of Hoffman & Gelfman said there were no issues during the surgery itself, which was meant to address a double curvature of Hamm’s spine. But after surgery, doctors started administering pain medication via an epidural catheter. Within an hour after beginning the infusion, Hamm lost motor and sensory function in her lower extremities.
The plaintiff’s theory was that the medication caused a buildup of fluids that put tourniquet-like pressure on the spinal column and restricted blood flow. Despite the concerns about the patient’s loss of feeling, the hospital staff slowly reduced the medication flow over 20 hours in hopes that her sensory functions would return. Hoffman argued that they should have stopped the epidural infusion immediately.
“Had they cut the anesthesia, we feel this wouldn’t have happened,” Hoffman said. “But they didn’t terminate it; they kept it going. By the time they decided to terminate it, it was too late to reverse by surgery.”
Tim Gearin of Armstrong Teasdale, an attorney for Saint Louis University, had argued that the plaintiff suffered a cord stroke and there was no time to reverse plaintiff’s paralysis. He said the defense is weighing its post-trial options, but commended the plaintiff’s lawyers for their handling of what he said was “an extremely sad case.”
“We had an extremely sympathetic plaintiff, and sometimes those are very difficult for the jury to turn down,” Gearin said.
He said his clients maintained that they didn’t do anything wrong. “Sometimes you just have to take that chance in the courtroom, and you have to understand that you aren’t always going to prevail at trial,” he said.
The jury’s verdict totaled $11,508,022, including $8.35 million in past and future noneconomic damages and nearly $3.2 million in economic damages, mostly for future medical bills.
The verdict exceeded the plaintiff’s pretrial demand of $9 million. The defense had offered $3 million at the start of trial but dropped that offer to just $400,000 before closing arguments, according to Hoffman & Gelfman. (Gearin recalled the offer as $500,000.) During jury deliberations, the defendant made a high-low offer of $2 million to $4 million, which was rejected.
Breakdown: $850,000 in past noneconomic damages; $2,716,765 in future medical damages; $441,257 in non-medical future economic damages; $7.5 million in future noneconomic damages
Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 1322-CC00976/Jan. 26, 2016
Judge: Timothy J. Wilson
Last Pretrial Demand: $9 million
Last Pretrial Offer: $3 million
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Theodore Hoffman and Steven Gelfman, Hoffman & Gelfman, St. Louis
Defendant’s Attorneys: Timothy Gearin, David Ott and Matthew Shorey, Armstrong Teasdale, St. Louis