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Jury returns record medical malpractice verdict

Our society has great respect for physicians, and for good reason. But even the best doctors can make mistakes, and a failure to diagnose the correct ailment can have devastating consequences. A recent medical malpractice verdict in Colorado illustrates this point, and may be of interest to our readers in Montana.

The case involved a 36-year-old man who went to the emergency room complaining of numbness in his arms and legs accompanied by severe neck pain. The ER doctor diagnosed neck strain and discharged the patient. A few hours after returning to his home, the patient was completely paralyzed from the chest down.

According to the patient's attorneys, he was not suffering from neck strain; he actually had a herniated disk in his back that was squeezing his spinal cord and causing damage to his nervous system. As a result of the misdiagnosis, the patient can no longer walk. The jury returned a verdict against both the doctor and the hospital, and awarded total damages of $15 million. It is believed to be the largest medical malpractice award in the history of the state.

Unfortunately, the patient might only receive a small percentage of the jury's award. Many states impose a limit on the damages that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases for impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering. Such "noneconomic" damages might be capped at amounts over $250,000, for example. However, the cap would not apply to damages for out-of-pocket losses, such as medical expenses or lost income.

Medical malpractice cases are complex and require thorough preparation. An expert witness is necessary to present evidence that the doctor or hospital departed from the accepted standards of care. Attorneys experienced in this kind of litigation can help victims of medical negligence evaluate their claim and present their best case.

Source: Law Week Colorado, "Colorado Springs Jury Returns $15 Million Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case," Aug. 2, 2012

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