Madison County jury cuts award for plaintiffs in med mal trial

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 15, 2007, 2:01pm

After deliberating three-and-a-half hours, a Madison County jury found Alton Memorial Hospital and Samuel Essma, M.D. negligent for failing to identify ionic contrast dye prior to injecting it into James Halloway's spinal canal. But the jury award was nearly $2 million less than what was asked for, and more closely in line with what defendants expected to pay.

On trial since Feb. 5, Essma and the hospital had admitted negligence, but not to the extent Halloway claimed.

Halloway was awarded $300,000 for pain and suffering, but nothing for "increased risk of harm."

His wife, Alice Halloway, who asked for damages for loss of consortium, received nothing. During the trial James Halloway, 80, complained he suffered sexual dysfunction because of the defendants' medical negligence.

The Halloways were represented by attorney Rex Carr.

Damages were also assessed for:

  • Loss of a normal life: $10,000

  • Emotional Distress: $50,000

  • Medical Expenses: $90,000

    Carr wanted the jury composed of four men and eight women to award the Halloways of Godfrey $2.3 million during closing arguments in Madison County's latest medical malpractice trial.

    He told jurors that they should award the couple $5 million, but since the jurors indicated they thought there was a medical crisis during voir dire he would only ask for the $2.3 million.

    James Halloway claimed the negligence took place during a myelogram at Alton Memorial on Jan. 16, 2004.

    The hospital was represented by Lisa Franke of the Hepler Broom law firm in Edwardville. Essma was represented by J. Thaddeus Eckenrode of St. Louis.

    The hospital and Essma admitted they used the wrong dye during the myelogram, but claimed the plaintiff's back injuries were consistent with his conditions of spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis.

    Holloway claimed the dye caused a condition called arachnoiditis, a pain disorder caused by the inflammation of the arachnoid, one of the membranes that surround and protect the nerves of the spinal cord.

    James Halloway claimed he suffered permanent and disabling injuries to his spinal cord and to the nerves serving his legs and feet, lost large sums of money in medical care, and suffers unremitting permanent pain and disability.

    During closing arguments Franke told jurors that two MRI's taken after the incident did not show arachnoiditis and that Carr's paid expert, Dr. Shuter, admitted he never even looked at the MRI films even though he was a radiologist.

    "No evidence of arachnoiditis exists," Franke said. "None."

    Franke also told jurors that Shuter was paid $6,000 for 45 minutes of testimony and has worked over 150 cases with Carr in the past. She also said over 25 percent of Shuter's income was as a plaintiff's expert.

    She again admitted that the hospital made a mistake and once it was noticed, the dye was removed and Halloway was treated in the hospital for the next three weeks. Franke said after the three weeks, Halloway's reaction was resolved and his condition was improved.

    Franke also reminded the jurors that in 1999 James' back problems began and that he was diagnosed with progressive spinal stenosis and degenerative disk disease and had his first back surgery. She said in 2002 he had a second back surgery.

    She also said that Alice Halloway hit James in the back with a car door in Oct. 2005.

    In response to Carr asking the jury for $2.3 million, Franke asked them to award the Halloway's $250,000. She said that after the incident, Halloway's symptoms were from the "natural process of aging."

    Franke said the jury should award $10,000 for loss of a normal life, $10,000 for increased future harm, $130,000 for pain and suffering, $10,000 for emotional distress and $90,000 for his medical expenses. She said she thought that was fair for three weeks of medical problems.

    Eckenrode did not give the jury a specific number to award, but instead asked them to award damages based upon his condition today and how it would have been different had the incident not occurred.

    He said that Carr was "avoiding reality" when stating that Halloway would have had a third back surgery when he was 80-years-old.

    Eckenrode also said that not one of Halloway's treating physicians ever diagnosed him with arachnoiditis and that Carr was just a "leap of faith" for Carr to think the dye caused Halloway's medical problems after the incident.

    Eckenrode also admitted that the Halloway's were "nice" people but that unfortunately reality does not allow them to receive a large award fo damages because they are nice people.

    He also said that James sexual dysfunction was partly due to his vascular problems and bad blood flow which "unfortunately" happens with age and noted that Viagra and other pills can help that problem.

    On rebuttal, Carr said is was not a mistake but rather gross negligence of the worst kind.

    "We are talking about a human life," Carr said.

    In response to Franke's statement about arachnoiditis not showing up on MRI films he said Halloway's was much milder and that was why it did not show up on films.

    He also said that the amount he asked for was too much.

    "I hope it is too much money," he said. "They cannot get away with this."

    He told the jurors to "ignore" the medical malpractice problem and to imagine the hospital was called Illinois Central Railroad or the Rex Carr law firm.

    Carr said imagine you are sticking it to a rich lawyer.

    Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla presided over the trial, his first since being elected in November.

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