Lee County is a modest-sized jurisdiction in Alabama that recently made a big legal splash. A jury awarded a $9 million verdict to the family of Hope Johnson in their wrongful death lawsuit against Auburn Urgent Care. It was a new record for the country and the latest in a string of large medical malpractice settlements.
Back in December 2014, Hope Johnson had gone to urgent care experiencing chest pains. They were, at the time, relatively mild. She was given an antibiotic and told to come back if they got worse. Two days later, she was back.
Johnson’s vital signs were at panic levels, though she was still certainly very treatable. But it was the first day at work for a new doctor at the facility. He had been instructed to see new patients without access to their medical records. Consequently, instead of calling for an ambulance, he gave her an inhaler and sent her home. One day later, blood clots in Johnson’s lungs resulted in her death.
The Johnson family successfully argued that the medical staff had been stretched too thin if doctors were being sent to perform their duties without access to the records. The jury agreed and in doing so, came down with the largest damage award in the history of Lee Country.
A $9 million award might set a record in a small Alabama county, but it still pales in comparison to other recent cases. Here are some of the most noteworthy medical malpractice settlements of the past several years:
In the summer of 2019, Erica Byrom was awarded over $200 million in her suit against Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland. Under the advice of her doctors, Byron opted against having a C-section due to high blood pressure. During the resulting delivery, the baby suffered brain damage and Byrom was injured. The baby—a little girl named Zubida—will now require medical care for her entire life.
In Michigan, another baby suffered traumatic injuries necessitating a lifetime of care. The mother of two-month-old Vinh Tran tried to tell the medical staff that her son was turning blue in the face after the insertion of an IV. The response was judged inappropriate to the situation—rather than administering chest compressions or call in a code blue, the staff attempted rescue breaths. It didn’t stop Tran from suffering cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen to the brain.
A Rhode Island hospital lost a $62 million verdict to Peter Sfameni after doctors advised him to cease medication for blood-clotting issues in light of other symptoms. Upon cessation of the medication, blood clots developed in Sfameni’s right leg and required its amputation.
Those are just a few of the large medical malpractice settlements. Their size and scope continue to be a hot-button issue in the worlds of medicine, law and politics.