A jury awarded nearly $217 million in damages to a Tampa man left brain-damaged when emergency-room doctors misdiagnosed stroke symptoms. After a three-week civil trial, just over $100 million in punitive damages were added to the original verdict of $116.7 million for compensatory damages.
The patient had gone to the ER complaining of nausea, headache, dizziness, confusion, and double vision. He told the triage nurse he had a personal history of hypertension, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol, plus a family history of strokes. The attending physician ordered two CT scans of the patient’s brain and diagnosed sinusitis, discharging him with a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers. He was not told to watch for any stroke symptoms.
The man returned to the hospital the next morning with severe headache, slurred speech, nausea, confusion, and trouble walking. That afternoon, he underwent surgery to relieve brain swelling. He spent three months in a coma and is now permanently disabled, confined to a wheelchair.
The lawsuit was filed against the doctors and physicians groups who provided emergency services at the hospital, but the hospital itself was not sued. Testimony revealed that the attending physician based his diagnosis on an exam performed by an unlicensed physician assistant.
The award was the largest ever in Florida and the largest in the United States during 2006. The family said all of the punitive damages will be donated to charities dedicated to helping people with spinal-cord and brain injuries.
The case was filed in 2002—before caps were put in place by the state legislature on non-economic damages. The plaintiff’s attorneys said offers to settle with the physicians’ malpractice insurance company within policy limits were rejected.