October 31, 2011 - When a fourteen-year-old girl woke to back pain and numbness in her legs in December of 2003, her mother took her to the pediatrician who then sent her to UC Davis Medical Center for emergency care. She was admitted and sent for an MRI. The MRI was read as normal and the doctors treated her for Guillaun Barre, releasing her a week later after she regained feeling in her legs and the ability to walk.
Despite residual weakness, she returned to school and went on to graduate from high school several years later. That summer she became pregnant.
Five years after the initial incident, she woke up with the same symptoms as in 2003. At Methodist Hospital Emergency Room in Sacramento, Ca., they considered the previous diagnosis of Guillaun Barre and repeated the MRI, which revealed a mass: an arteriovenous malformation on her thoracic spine that had bled out and damaged her spinal cord.
Surgery was performed, but it was too late. Now the mother of a 3-year old son, she was a T4 paraplegic with no movement below her chest.
Attorneys Brooks Cutter and Eric Ratinoff (Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff) determined that the mass was actually present during the initial 2003 MRI, but had been missed when the Radiology Department at UC Davis had varied from their standard protocol for doing this kind of study.
UC Davis testified that the patient was uncomfortable during the MRI and thus, additional views weren't taken, but the evidence showed that she was sedated and had no difficulty with the study. UC Davis also blamed the girl's parents for seeking follow up care through their daughter's pediatrician. They argued that they would have eventually figured out the misdiagnosis.
The jury returned a verdict of $200,000 for past non-economic loss; $1,000,000 for future non-economic loss; $5,519,415 for future medical care; and $904,903 in lost earnings, for a total of $7,624,318. Because of theMedical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA) - otherwise known in the state of California as Medical Malpractice Tort Reform, or "Caps" - the non-economic damages (pain and suffering) were reduced to $250,000.
Clearly this case, by virtue of the automatic reduction of pain and suffering damages to a mere $250,000, outlines the injustice of tort reform. The automatic reduction for non-economic damages would have occurred even in the case of death.
According to lead attorney Brooks Cutter, "Because of the cap I didn't even ask the jury for a more appropriate general damages number, knowing it would just be reduced. I suggested at least a million and the jury awarded 1.2."
He added, "Overall the jury worked very hard and returned a just verdict that will enable this courageous young woman to move forward with her life independently and pursue further educational opportunities with the care resources that she needs."
The total verdict of $7.6 million is believed to be the largest medical malpractice verdict in Sacramento County history.