Paralyzed man awarded $12.7 million

Paralyzed man awarded $12.7 million in personal injury case

St. Mary’s Hospital, subject of the lawsuit, denies negligence

A Dane County jury ordered St. Mary’s Hospital to pay $12.7 million to a Verona man who injured himself during a psychotic episode in the hospital’s psychiatric ward in 1999, leaving him paralyzed.

After a two and a half-week trial before a Dane County Circuit Judge, the jury said the hospital and three of its nurses were negligent in their treatment of the man, who now uses a wheelchair and requires 24-hour care.

The jury reached its verdict at 4 a.m. Wednesday, after about 10 hours of deliberation.

As the verdict stands, the patient would receive $6.6 million. In the jury’s $12.7 million verdict, it had awarded him $6.5 million for past and future pain and suffering, but state law caps that amount at $400,000.

“He got everything he could under the law,” said the man’s attorney, Stephen Eisenberg. “He’s got nothing right now.”

Eisenberg said the plaintiff taught ceramics at East High School for 10 years until the voices in his head, brought on by mental illness, became so loud that he tried anything he could to silence them.

He was brought to the St. Mary’s emergency room on June 20, 1999, suffering from a psychotic episode. During the visit, he tried to strike his head on a sink in the emergency room. The day before, he had been to the emergency room after repeatedly ramming his head into a patio window and banging his head repeatedly on a tile floor.

After his second emergency room visit, the man was sent to the hospital’s psychiatric ward. Left alone and unrestrained by the nursing staff, Eisenberg said, he attempted to dive out a window, taking a running jump and using a bed as a springboard. The impact with the window broke his neck.

During closing arguments Tuesday, St. Mary’s attorney said nobody at that hospital could have reasonably foreseen the man’s actions. He said the nurses in the psychiatric ward did everything they could to assure that he was safe.

“The evidence shows they were doing what they were trained to do,” Nelson said.

St. Mary’s president said in a statement Wednesday that the hospital is concerned about patient safety, has reviewed the incident and believes proper procedures were followed.

“Although we were disappointed with the verdict, we will continue to review our patient care procedures on an ongoing basis and look for ways to reduce the chances of unfortunate incidents from happening,” Lefert said.

The jury said psychiatric ward nurses were a combined 60 percent negligent in their care and treatment of their patient. It said the patient himself was 40 percent negligent in causing his injury.

But under Wisconsin case law, the man’s share of the award will likely not be reduced because of his partial negligence, said attorney for Wisconsin Physicians Service, the patient’s insurer and a co-plaintiff in the case.

Normally, a civil verdict would be reduced by the percentage in which the plaintiff is negligent.

But because the incident happened in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, under circumstances in which the jury found that the possibility of self-injury was foreseeable, this plaintiff’s negligence will likely be expunged entitling him to the entire jury award.

Of the $6.6 million the patient would receive under the verdict, WPS would receive about $965,000, which is what it paid the hospital for his treatment.

EISENBERG LAW OFFICES

308 East Washington Avenue Madison,
WI 53703
(608) 256-8356

Eisenberg Law Offices, s.c.

Madison WI Attorneys since 1983

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