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Family wins $3.5M Med-Mal Verdict in Augusta

A jury in Augusta County recently handed down a $3.5 million verdict in a medical malpractice suit involving the family of a woman who suffered a fatal stroke that went misdiagnosed.

Family wins $3.5M Med-Mal Verdict in Augusta
By:  Virginia Lawyers Weekly

A jury in Augusta County recently handed down a $3.5 million verdict in a medical malpractice suit involving the family of a woman who suffered a fatal stroke that went misdiagnosed.

The $3.5 million award is unusual for a normally conservative area such as Augusta.

Once the medical-malpractice damages cap in Virginia Code § 8.01-581.15 is applied, though, the family will only be able to recover $2.15 million of the $3.5 million awarded.

Staunton attorneys Frank Hilton, Tripp Franklin, and Alexandra Humphreys represented the woman’s family in the case against Dr. Antonio Baca, the emergency room physician at Augusta Health that treated the woman, and Augusta Emergency Physicians.

“We’re happy we came away with a good result from the case,” Franklin said. “But cases like this are tough, particularly on the family. It’s also tough knowing the jury awarded the kind of damages they did in a case like this, but because of the cap we’re not able to recover almost $1.5 million of it. We obviously tried to prepare the family ahead of time for that, but it doesn’t make things easier.”

Stroke went misdiagnosed

The woman, who was 40 years old and a mother of two children, began complaining of a bad headache one evening in June 2015. Eventually she began slurring her speech, had difficulty walking and then experienced paralysis on one side of her body. She was transported from her location in Highland County via ambulance to Augusta Health in Fishersville.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, Baca ordered a CT scan and began treating the woman for a migraine. However, an MRI conducted hours later revealed the woman had suffered an ischemic stroke.

Franklin said he believes had an MRI been done earlier after the woman’s arrival, or even if Baca had consulted with a neurologist or utilized any of the other stroke protocols available, he and his team could have introduced a tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) that could have saved the woman’s life.

“Normally you have about a four-and-a-half-hour window from the time the patient begins experiencing symptoms of an ischemic stroke to introduce the TPA,” Franklin said. “In this case, she began experiencing symptoms shortly after 9 p.m., and even after the hour transport in the ambulance she arrived at the ER with about two-and-a-half hours before the TPA window closed. By the time the doctors had discovered what was happening, it was too late.”

The woman was transferred to MCV Hospital in Richmond where she later died.

A conservative area

In terms of the money awarded, Franklin confirmed that juries in Augusta did not have a history of large verdicts in medical malpractice cases.

“Augusta is a pretty conservative area,” Franklin said. “As far as we could tell, there hadn’t been any other medical malpractice verdicts in Augusta that were larger.”

Franklin was unsure if this verdict sets any precedent moving forward for Augusta or even that part of the state. The medical malpractice cap in Virginia continues to rise by $50,000 every year until the maximum amount that can be recovered reaches $3 million. That’s not set to happen until 2031.

But Franklin did mention a similar case that was filed against the same medical group in July also in Augusta. According to the Staunton News Leader, that case is seeking $5 million in damages. Franklin, Hilton and Humphreys put their final demand in this case at $1.9 million prior to trial.

“There’s just no way to tell what kind of jury you’re going to get or what you feel like they’re going to award,” Franklin said. “The facts of each case are so different, so you just never know. But it is something to definitely keep an eye on moving forward.”