After being ordered to pay nearly $10 million in damages to a patient wrongly diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has had its appeal denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The medical malpractice verdict has reportedly now grown to an estimated $11.6 million, due to interest.
As any malpractice lawyer in Harrisburg recognizes, the plaintiff that was awarded compensation suffered very serious harm as a result of a misdiagnosis. The compensation he received will provide him security in being able to pay his future medical bills and costs, however nothing can reverse the permanent damage he experienced as a result of the doctor’s mistake.
The case is a reminder to physicians of the importance of exercising reasonable care when diagnosing patients. It is also a reminder to patients that getting a second opinion is always advised when diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
A Misdiagnosis Can Have Devastating Results
The medical malpractice victim, Eric Davenport, had sought treatment in 2003 from the director of the ALS Association Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The physician reviewed MRI films and failed to diagnose spinal cord abnormalities that were suggestive of multi-level spinal cord disease.
Instead of being correctly diagnosed with a progressive spinal cord injury, the patient was incorrectly diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The patient was told he had between 18 months and three years to live, since ALS is fatal and incurable.
The patient accepted the diagnosis. However, four years later, his health had not declined in the way that his first physician told him it would. The patient asked for a referral to a different neurologist and had another set of MRI scans done. With the new scans, his spinal cord injury was correctly diagnosed and it became clear that he had never had ALS.
Unfortunately, not only did the patient have years of worry that his life would be cut drastically short by a fatal disease, but his actual spinal cord injury was also not treated during this time. After the correct diagnosis, the patient received proper medical treatment, including surgery to relieve compression of the spinal cord. Yet, because of the excessive delay in treatment, his paraparesis had become irreversible, and he is now confined to a wheelchair for life.
The large award ordered by the jury included compensation for eight years of economic and non-economic damages experienced since the misdiagnosis in 2003. It also included compensation for 20 years of future damage and loss caused by the permanent paralysis. The verdict was upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and became final when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. The malpractice insurers for the doctors and hospitals will be obligated to pay the damages, but no amount of money will allow the injured victim to walk again.
While patients have the right to trust that doctors will be reasonably accurate in diagnosing medical conditions, this unfortunate case is a clear example of why it can be so important for patients to seek a second opinion when the stakes are high.
If you believe you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, our malpractice lawyers in Harrisburg, Shippensburg, Wilkes-Barre, Lancaster, Pottsville or York may be able to help with your case. Contact Metzger Wickersham toll free at 1-800-WIN-WIN-1 (946-9461) or visit us online for a free case evaluation.