It is not unusual for patients in medical malpractice cases to be awarded financial compensation for pain and suffering.
What made this New York case different was the fact that the pain and suffering had taken place for a relatively short period of time: 11 months. Most cases with high pain and suffering awards are in situations where the patient lived for years with a disability caused by the malpractice.
The patient in this case was a 33-year-old mother of three who was in good health until she began experiencing abdominal pain and was admitted to Westchester Medical Center. The patient was allegedly suffering from pancreatitis but was misdiagnosed as having ovarian cancer.
This misdiagnosis led to improper treatment that led to respiratory distress so severe that she had to be placed on a ventilator. She soon suffered a tension pneumothorax, a heart attack, and anoxic brain damage. She spent the last 11 months of her life hospitalized, bedridden, and unable to communicate.
After her death, her family sued the medical center and its doctors, arguing that the failure to recognize that her health problems were due to pancreatitis, and her subsequent misdiagnosis, caused her almost a year of suffering. Her husband testified movingly about their blissful 11-year marriage, her devotion to her family, and the deprivation he had suffered because of her death.
A jury awarded the family $3 million in pre-death pain and suffering, and $4 million in loss of consortium – both of these awards were based on the 11-month period prior to the patient’s death. The defendants appealed, arguing that the amount of the verdict was excessive.
The plaintiffs countered by arguing that they were also entitled to wrongful death damages—compensation for economic losses sustained by the family due to the patient’s death. The judge upheld the $3 million pain and suffering award but reduced the loss of consortium award to $1 million.
The judge also agreed with the plaintiffs that there should be a new trial on the issue of wrongful death damages to determine whether in addition to causing the patient’s pre-death injuries, the malpractice also caused her death.