South Florida Appeals Court Orders New Trial after Jury Awards More than $15 Million to Injured Plaintiff
A South Florida woman who lost several fingers and part of her left foot as the result of an alleged medical error in 2008 seemed to have gotten the compensation she needed, and, some would argue, even more. After a jury trial, a trial court awarded her $15.9 in damages; the amount includes both economic and non-economic damages. The defendants appealed, citing a variety of anomalies in the trial that could have led to the verdict and to the large sum awarded to the plaintiff. The case highlights the fact that there is more to medical malpractice lawsuits than just demonstrating that the doctor made a mistake; medical malpractice lawyers must follow a detailed set of rules regarding the admission and presentation of evidence. If you are considering filing a lawsuit related to a medical error, contact a Palm Beach medical malpractice attorney.
Details of the Hollingsworth Case
On November 21, 2008, Stephanie Hollingsworth went to the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital in Broward County, complaining of pain in her arms and legs. The emergency room physician diagnosed her with vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels; vasculitis can have various causes, but Hollingsworth’s case was the result of a bacterial infection. She was admitted to the hospital and placed in the Cardiac Care Unit because the Intensive Care Unit was full. She was treated with antibiotics, steroids, and immunosuppressants, on the orders of the defendant Yvonne Sherrer, a rheumatologist. The plaintiff’s condition worsened, and she eventually had to have several fingers and toes, as well as part of her left foot, amputated.
Hollingsworth sued Sherrer and Holy Cross in 2011. She alleged that Sherrer failed to diagnose her necrotizing vasculitis on time and did not administer Cytoxan, a chemotherapy drug that could have halted the progression of the disease until it was too late. She also argued that the standard of care dictated transferring her to a hospital with available beds in its ICU; in fact, Holy Cross did not even move her to its own ICU when a bed became available. After a three-week jury trial in October 2017, the trial court awarded Hollingsworth $15.9 million in damages, including $10 million for pain and suffering.
The defendants appealed, alleging the following irregularities in the trial:
- The arguments by the attorneys for the plaintiff failed to treat the matters of medical error and informed consent separately, when medical malpractice law requires dealing with them as separate allegations
- An attorney for the plaintiff unfairly played on the sympathy of the jury by requesting a break for emotional reasons, when he really needed a break because he was ill
- Some of the medical expert witness testimony presented to the jury did not meet the Daubert standard
The appeals court ruled to throw out the trial court’s verdict and to order a new trial.
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