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Hawaii Medical Malpractice Settlements and Verdicts

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There are not many malpractice settlements and verdicts in Hawaii.  Here are three that I found and the awards or settlements are significant:

  • 2019, Hawaii: $18,760,000 Settlement. A woman suffered an end-stage renal disease after experiencing a sepsis-related infection while giving birth at Tripler Medical Center. She experienced repeated and increased hypotension and tachycardia episodes after being transferred to the postpartum unit. Her lab results showed that she developed sepsis and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy. She eventually suffered permanent kidney damage. An infectious disease expert confirmed the group A streptococcus that resulted in toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and bacteremia. Upon being discharged, she underwent hemodialysis three times a week. Within two years, she was hospitalized for gallstones and increased fluid in her abdomen. She and her husband sued Tripler for failing to timely diagnose or treat her kidney failure. They allege that she now needed a kidney transplant and other organ transplants throughout her life.  The magistrate judge initially awarded $24,743,668. However, the federal government appealed the case. It eventually settled for $18,760,000.
  • 2013, Hawaii: $4,250,000 Award. A 15-year-old became paralyzed from the neck down after receiving steroid treatment for lupus. She developed a facial rash and slurred speech while visiting Hawaii with her family. She saw a pediatric rheumatologist, who diagnosed her with lupus. An MRI revealed some white matter density in her brain. Upon hospital admission, the rheumatologist prescribed weekly methylprednisone and prednisone doses to be taken for four weeks. The teenager responded well to the medication; her speech resolved, and her blood tests showed no increases in lupus antibodies. The rheumatologist had her continue this regimen. Right before the fourth week, the teen complained of muscle weakness. Her mother had her stop taking the medications. She eventually showed myopathy signs and was subsequently admitted to the hospital. She eventually could not move her body from the neck down. The teen and her mother sued the treating medical center for prescribing a high steroid dose. She now needed lifetime medical care because of her injuries. The first trial, held in 2009, awarded $6,150,000. However, the Hawaiian Supreme Court ordered a new trial based on erroneous evidence. The second trial’s jury awarded $4,250,000, which the court reduced to $1,800,000.
  • 2008, Hawaii: $6,141,300 Verdict. A 42-year-old man suffered an end-stage renal disease after doctors delayed his light-chain deposition disease and multiple myeloma diagnoses. Because of the delays, he needed a kidney transplant and required lifelong care. The jury awarded a $6,141,300 award.

2006 Malpractice Case in Hawaii

Not many people want to read about a 2006 malpractice verdict in 2020, right?  This is why I updated the post with these verdicts and settlements to make it more relevant and changed the date so it is not so antiquated.  Below is verdict I wrote about 14 years ago.  (Yes, I’ve been at this too long.)

A Hawaii jury yesterday awarded $5.6 million in a personal injury medical malpractice case to a man who had a screwdriver placed in his back instead of a titanium rod. The facts in this medical malpractice case are incredible. The surgeon, Dr. Robert Ricketson, who lost his medical license in Oklahoma and Texas amidst allegations of drug use before coming to Hawaii, began surgery on a patient and realized after two hours of surgery that he could not find the titanium rod he needed to insert in the patient’s back. Dr. Ricketson used a screwdriver instead of the titanium rod. A nurse who was assisting Dr. Ricketson urged him to wait because a titanium rod was being sent from another island. He asked the nurse to leave the operating room. The screwdriver snapped in just a few days. Three failed corrective surgeries later, Arturo Iturralde, a Baptist minister, was rendered a paraplegic. Just awful.

Under Hawaii’s comparative fault system, the jury found that Dr. Ricketson was 65% liable for medical bills and pain and suffering damages, and the hospital was 35% responsible. They found the hospital responsible for letting Dr. Ricketson perform surgery at their hospital despite the evidence that he was not a responsible physician and because they also blamed the nurse for failing to make sure the rod was ready before the surgery began. The total award for compensatory damages was approximately $2.2 million. The jury also awarded $3.5 million in punitive damages against Dr. Ricketson.

Realistically, the patient’s estate and wrongful death beneficiaries (he died in 2003, two years after the surgery) beneficiaries will collect $770,000 from the hospital. Dr. Ricketson was uninsured and acted as his own attorney at trial.

This Same Case in Maryland

Interestingly, this case would turn out much differently in Maryland. First, there would not be a punitive damages award given the lack of actual malice which is required in Maryland for a punitive damages claim. See Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia , 325 Md. 420 (1992). It is unlikely a Maryland medical malpractice attorney would even plead punitive damages in a case like this. In contrast, Hawaii’s punitive damages standard is merely whether the “defendant has acted wantonly or oppressively or with such malice as implies a spirit of mischief or criminal indifference to civil obligations.” AMFAC, Inc. v. Waikiki Beachcomber Inv. Co., 74 Haw. 85, 138 (1992).

But in this case, the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer will recover only $770,000 for his client because of Hawaii’s comparative negligence law does not allow for joint and severable liability. In Maryland, a jury would have found that both parties were “substantial contributing causes of the injury” and the plaintiff’s lawyer could choose which Defendant he/she wanted to collect from for the injured party’s recovery. The Plaintiff could recover, had this case occurred in Maryland, approximately $900,000 (limited by Maryland’s cap on pain and suffering) from the hospital instead of $770,000.

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