Deutsch & Blumberg Attorney helps jury deliver $12M medical malpractice award

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Steven K. Deutsch
Steven K. Deutsch

Case: Coral Gables Trust Co., as guardian of the property of Arcadio Hernandez, v. Morton Plant Hospital Association Inc., d/b/a Morton Plant North Bay Hospital; Helene Harper M.D.; Bethany Berghoffer P.A. and EMCARE, Inc.

Case no: 51-2011-CA-5035WS

Description: Medical malpractice

Filing date: Oct. 25, 2011

Verdict date: Dec. 13, 2013

Judge: Pasco Circuit Judge Lowell Bray

Plaintiff attorneys: Steven Deutsch and Cosme Caballero, Deutsch & Blumberg, Miami

Defense attorneys: Louis La Cava, La Cava & Jacobsen, Tampa; Chris Schulte, Weekley Schulte Valdez, Tampa; Andrew Efaw, Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell, Denver

Verdict amount: $12.2 million

Details: New Port Richey resident Arcadio Hernandez was an otherwise healthy 17-year-old who visited the emergency room at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey on July 17, 2010, complaining of pain behind his eye. He was seen by nurses and Berghoffer, a physician assistant, who diagnosed conjunctivitis, or pink eye, and declined to do further testing. Harper, the supervising doctor, signed off on Berghoffer's diagnosis.

One hundred days later, on Nov. 2, 2010, Hernandez suffered a ruptured aneurysm behind his eye and suffered extensive cognitive brain damage.

Plaintiffs case: Hernandez told jurors he has regular seizures. He walks with a cane and lost the use of one hand.

Plaintiffs called several expert witnesses in trial: Joel Falk, a Greenbelt, Md., neurosurgeon; Richard Hamilton, a Miami neuropsychologist; Bruce Kohrman, a Miami neurologist; Shalon Buchs, a Gainesville physician assistant; Michael Baumann, a Falmouth, Maine, emergency medicine physician; Darlene Carruthers, a Miami vocational rehabilitation expert; and Polly Zimmerman, a Chicago nurse. Much of the testimony centered on the assertion proper testing during the emergency room visit would have headed off the catastrophic illness.

No pretrial settlement was offered. Deutsch asked for damages of $8.5 million to $9.5 million.

Defense case: Reuben Holland, a Sarasota emergency medicine physician; Thomas Hedges, a Boston neuroopthalmologist; Brian Hoh, a Gainesville neurosurgeon; and Peter Hill, a Baltimore emergency medicine physician, testified for the defense.

They concluded the plaintiff's presentation in the emergency room would not have led a reasonable health-care provider to conclude Hernandez had an aneurysm.

Outcome: After a two-week trial, jurors found the physician assistant, doctor in charge and hospital were 30 percent negligent each. They also attributed 10 percent negligence to Hernandez for failing to follow up with doctors later.

The jury awarded Hernandez $1.025 million in future earnings, $9.3 million in future medical expenses and treatment, $2.9 million in pain and suffering and smaller awards for a total of $13.5 million. With the 10 percent reduction for Hernandez's liability, the final award amount is $12.2 million.

Comments: "I think justice was done," Deutsch said. "I think the jury assessed the evidence correctly and brought a fair and just verdict."

Post-settlement: The defense filed a variety of post-trial motions, all of which were denied by the judge.

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