Long Road to Justice For a Woman In Seven Year Medical Malpractice Case

By Kerrie Spencer, staff writer – October 26, 2011

Too many people have been victims of medical negligence in the U.S., and this story highlights problems patients face all too often. Linda Mohr of Richland, Washington had to wait seven years to get her medical malpractice case to trial. She had already gone through one court proceeding where she was told that she did not prove her case, even though it was quite clear she was suffering from brain damage. Now her case may now move forward to Washington’s Supreme Court. [1]

The problems first began when Linda, a diabetic, suffered from a hypoglycemic incident while she was driving. Hypoglycemia is typically defined as having a serum glucose level below 70 mg/dL and diagnosed by the presence of three things: symptoms that suggest hypoglycemia, low plasma glucose concentration and symptoms that decrease when the glucose level is raised. [2]

Early symptoms of hypoglycemia may include clammy skin, pounding heart, trembling, sweating and anxiety. If these symptoms are not addressed, the condition progresses, affects the brain and may even bring on seizures and a coma. These problems all started to happen while Linda was driving, and created an awful accident back in 2004.

Mohr passed out and hit several cars that were in her path, drove on and off the sidewalk, ran over several bushes, just about hit a cyclist, and ended up hitting a light pole. She was going 45 mph when her car hit the light pole. Linda had little recollection of what had happened. On the way to the hospital when she began to come to is where the alleged medical negligence started to begin.

Three doctors, Drs. Dale C. Grantham, Brian J. Dawson and Brooks Watson II, along with a hospital and ER physicians, were named in the lawsuit that was ultimately filed in 2007. ER Doctor Grantham was responsible for taking care of Mohr, ordering tests and developing a diagnosis. What actually happened though was a series of mishaps that would finally result in Mohr filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

On arrival, Mohr was given a neurological test and a brain scan. Although the results were normal, she displayed neurological symptoms. These red flags should have alerted the doctor that something else was going on. Mohr was wobbly on her feet and in severe pain even after she was given painkillers. Dr. Grantham had a conversation with one of Mohr’s two sons, who are also doctors. Grantham let them know that he was going to administer another neurological test before he sent her home.

The test was not done though and Mohr was only discharged with a prescription. On discharge, she could not walk and when her husband got her home, he had to carry her to bed. The next morning she was taken back to the same hospital, as her husband was frightened that she was still lethargic and not terribly coherent. This time the attending ER doctor was Dr. Dawson, who diagnosed a stroke.

Mohr was sent for an MRI, and a stroke was confirmed, but Dr. Dawson did not provide any further treatment or therapy for her. Instead, she was transferred two hours later to an intermediate care unit and put under the care of Dr. Watson. By this time, Mohr’s two doctor sons had arrived and insisted that Dawson and Watson give their mother a CT angiogram.

Despite frequently paging Dr. Watson, the CT angiogram was not done until 2:30 p.m. and results were not available until 3:27 p.m. Even with the results ready, Dr. Watson was not found for another hour and a half that the CT scan had revealed a dissected carotid artery. Even when he was informed about the results, he did not order any therapy or treatment.

Earlier in the day at 2:00 p.m. he had prescribed aspirin for Mohr, but did not order it to be given to her. As a net result of the daylong comedy of errors, Mohr did not get the aspirin until 6 p.m. just as she was being moved to another medical center.

To say that this is an egregious case of medical negligence or malpractice may be a bit of an understatement. It should then come as no surprise that the family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. That first lawsuit was booted out of court in 2009, as the Superior Court judge ruled that Mohr had not shown how she might have had a better outcome if her medical treatments had been different.

Mohr is permanently brain-damaged, with one quarter to one third of her brain tissue destroyed as a result of a stroke brought on by her car accident. This affects her spatial reasoning, motor control and the ability to sense things. Thus, when her case was tossed out of court in 2009, it was appealed to the State Supreme Court, who ruled she should be able to take her case to trial and may therefore proceed with her negligence case.

While it might be seven years later, perhaps justice will be done the second time around in a case that claims that the negligent treatment, or rather lack of treatment, at the hospital by the various doctors reduced Mohr’s chances of minimizing or avoiding her brain damage. Put another way, medical malpractice caused her to lose a chance for a better medical outcome and it severely affected her in a permanent, life-altering way.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, as the family also alleged the doctors failed to diagnose her stroke in a timely manner and that their care was way below the recognized standard of care that would be offered by other doctors in the same area of practice. All this diminished her chances of a better recovery.

The testimony of the woman’s two physician sons combined with a medical expert testifying that if Mohr had received the proper treatment will show that she could have had up to a 60 percent better chance of having a positive outcome with no disability or at least a lesser disability.

Until the jury hears this case, the family can only look forward to a reasonable damage award, not only because of the facts of the case, but because the Supreme Court of Washington views the statutory cap on non-economic damages in Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.56.250 as an unconstitutional infringement of the right to trial by jury. [3]

Depending on which state a medical malpractice victim lives in, they may or may not recover sufficient damages to look after themselves for the rest of their lives. The worse the injuries, the more expensive it is to care for the individual. This leaves the patient in a very difficult financial situation due to no fault of their own. With this, the patient is victimized twice – once by the medical profession and then again by the legal system.

Tort reform does not typically benefit victims of catastrophic injuries. Some states feel the same way, and do not have medical malpractice caps. Those states are [4]:
• Arizona
• Connecticut
• Delaware
• Iowa
• Kentucky
• Minnesota
• Nebraska
• New York
• Tennessee
• Vermont
• Wyoming

And, these states have tried to limit damages in medical malpractice cases, but their Supreme Courts have struck those attempts down in the following cases [4]:
• Alabama – Mutual Assurance, Inc. v. Schulte, 970 So.2d 292, 293 (Ala. 2007)
• Illinois – Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 689, N.E. 2d, 1057, (Ill. 1997)
• New Hampshire – Carson v. Maurer, 424 A.2d 825 (N.H. 1980).
• Oregon – Lakin v. Senco Products, Inc., 987 P.2d 463 (Ore. 1999)
• Washington – Sofie v. Fireboard Corp., 112 Wash. 2d 636, 771 P.2d 711 (1989).

After seven long years, it will be interesting to watch how this medical malpractice case will finally get the patient and her family the justice they deserve. One can only imagine how this case would play out in a jurisdiction that is going through strict tort reform.

Sources
[1] http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/10/14/2227801/state-supreme-court-rules-richland.html#ixzz1ao6YuhV8

[2] http://www.emedicinehealth.com/low_blood_sugar_hypoglycemia/page3_em.htm

[3] Sofie v. Fireboard Corp., 112Wash. 2d 636, 771 P.2d 711 (1989).

[4] http://www.butlersnow.com/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=3977

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