A Charleroi woman and her husband were awarded more than $15 million in a lawsuit they brought against Washington Health System and two doctors who were found to have committed medical errors when they treated her at Washington Hospital six years ago.
Washington County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Lucas calculated the award based largely on the past and future expenses and lost earnings of Alyssa McLaughlin, 35, who has a neurological injury that will require her to receive at-home nursing care for the rest of her life.
He also awarded $2.5 million to William McLaughlin, her husband, for loss of consortium in his Oct. 11 decision. The total award comes to $15.055 million.
Lucas cited a video depicting a day in McLaughlin’s life that showed the care she receives daily from her mother-in-law and husband, her difficulty eating, her inability to read because of her double vision and the fact that she doesn’t drive.
“This trial court finds that Mrs. McLaughlin has endured and will continue to encounter pain, suffering, inconvenience, the loss of the ability to enjoy life and life’s pleasures, humiliation and disfigurement,” Lucas wrote in a 21-page opinion supporting the verdict.
He found Dr. Amit Nahata and Dr. Jessie Ganjoo – who were described in the opinion as having staff privileges at the hospital, but not being employees there – were negligent in the care they offered her when she was admitted to the hospital twice in June 2013.
He also found that the two physicians shared the blame for causing McLaughlin’s injuries, with three-quarters of the fault ascribed to Nahata and the remainder attributed to Ganjoo, and that the hospital could be held liable for their actions because they were its “ostensible agents.”
McLaughlin was first flown by medical helicopter there after initially going to Mon Valley Hospital when she experienced blurry vision and a headache and then a seizure. Tests showed she had high blood pressure and neurological abnormalities. Her second visit occurred days later when she again reported visual problems and a headache. Her blood pressure was again elevated.
She was diagnosed with posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, a neurological condition.
Her second stay ended after two days, when she was transferred to UPMC-Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh, where she spent more than three weeks before she was transferred to a skilled nursing facility for several more weeks. Next, she stayed for a month at Mercy’s inpatient rehabilitation unit before she could return home.
Lucas wrote that during the weeks between her admission to Mercy and her return home, she remained unresponsive for days; needed feeding tubes; was unable to follow commands or participate in therapy for transfers and balance; couldn’t report pain or discomfort; had “limited ability to stand or ambulate” and experienced other problems.
Attorney Ronald Puntil Jr., who represented Nahata and Ganjoo, didn’t immediately return a message Friday afternoon. Tom Chairs, the lawyer who represented the hospital and Washington Health System, referred questions to the system.
“We are in the midst of ongoing litigation, so I’m not in a position to comment,” Chairs said.
A date has not been set for a separate trial to resolve a cross-claim the health system filed against Dialysis Clinic Inc. – a Tennessee-based treatment network that employs Nahata and Ganjoo – in which the health care entities are wrangling over which of them is liable. A date for that proceeding has not been set.
The health system said in an email that it respected the judge’s verdict.
“Upon learning of Mrs. McLaughlin’s injuries, Washington Health System took steps to financially assist them and work towards an amicable resolution,” the statement read, in part.
But Dialysis Clinic “refused to meaningfully participate in efforts to compensate the McClaughlins” before the trial, the email continued, so “Washington Health System, the independent physician defendants and the McLaughlins were forced to engage in proceedings that all were hoping to avoid.”
Lucas’ opinion supporting the award identified a series of decisions by Nahata and Ganjoo which he described as breaches of the normal standard of care for someone with Alyssa McLaughlin’s symptoms.
Lucas cited the opinion of Dr. Eric Brown, a board certified specialist in nephrology and internal medicine, that Nahata’s decision to discharge McLaughlin for the first time – with instructions to monitor her own blood pressure – as “premature and inappropriate.”
“Dr. Brown concluded that discharging Mrs. McLaughlin without anti-hypertensive medication and with inadequate discharge instructions was a gross deviation from the standard of care,” Lucas added.
At another point, Lucas found that evidence showed Ganjoo ordered McLaughlin receive certain medications during her second trip to Washington Hospital. He wrote that Brown called those orders “a ‘clear’ and ‘obvious’ deviation from the standard of care.”