This past summer saw a Minnesota federal jury deliver what may be the state’s largest medical malpractice verdict to date. Though outside the jurisdictions LDM generally provides services in, this verdict offers an opportunity for defense practitioners to assess whether their clients may be at risk of incurring similar substantial judgments.
The case, Thapa v. St. Cloud Orthopedic Associates, Ltd., arose from an injury a college student sustained during a pickup soccer game at an on-campus facility. After being slide-tackled and fracturing his leg, the patient was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and underwent surgery.
After surgery the patient claimed he continued to experience severe, uncontrolled pain in his leg along with numbness and burning. The patient was discharged that day but returned 6 days later with continued complaints of severe pain. His doctors undertook an additional operation and discovered he was suffering from acute compartment syndrome—a severe medical emergency. The patient, despite more than 20 additional surgical procedures, was left largely disabled.
The patient sued the treating physicians and hospital for failing to diagnose compartment syndrome and discharging him too soon. After a trial, the jury awarded the patient $10,000,000 for past pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment, and emotional distress; roughly $500,000 for past medical expenses; roughly $760,000 for future medical expenses; and $100,000,000.00 for future pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment, and emotional distress.
Shocking verdicts such as this are becoming more common in the Midwest. Last November, a Nebraska jury awarded over $20 million to the family of a disabled girl who claimed the girl suffered a brain injury after providers discharged her from the hospital without diagnosing ongoing seizures. Earlier this year, an Iowa jury awarded $97.4 million to the parents of a child with cerebral palsy allegedly caused by medical negligence. It seems normally conservative Midwest juries are catching up to their counterparts on the east and west coasts when it comes to awarding multimillion dollar verdicts.
Nebraska and Iowa have, however, taken steps to minimize the negative effects of runaway verdicts in medical malpractice cases. In Nebraska, the verdict in Thapa would be reduced from $111 million to the $2.25 million medical malpractice damages cap passed by the Nebraska Legislature. Iowa has no limit on economic damages such as past and future medical bills, but limits non-economic damages, such as pain, suffering, and mental distress, to $500,000. As a result, the verdict in Thapa would be reduced to $1.26 million if it occurred in Iowa.
The parties in all three of these cases are currently mired in post-trial motion practice. There is still a chance the defendants can reverse or reduce their liability through such motion practice, appeal, or settlement. The verdict in Thapa, and similar verdicts in Nebraska and Iowa, should nonetheless serve as cautionary tales for defense counsel who still believe in the conservatism of midwestern juries.