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$7.5 Million Malpractice Award Upheld on Appeal

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld a $7.5 million malpractice award to an Air Force couple stationed in Guam, according to the Pacific Daily News. Deborah Rutledge, whose husband was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, sought medical treatment at the Anderson Air Force Base Family Clinic in 2004 for back pain and loss of sensation in her groin. According to court records, she was examined by a nurse practitioner and physician assistant. Rutledge was not instructed to remove her clothing for some of the examinations. She was also unaware that she was not being examined by a physician. Not until later, when she was examined by a doctor at the Naval Hospital, was she diagnosed as having cauda equina syndrome, a serious neurologic condition. Rutledge had to be medically evacuated to Hawaii for treatment.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Guam ruled that the Family Clinic failed to recognize "alarming" symptoms that led to serious injuries. The trial court found that the delay in diagnosing the ailment caused permanent injuries to Rutledge's buttocks, vagina, bladder, and bowel, along with neurologic pain. It awarded $6,909,874 to Rutledge for loss of income, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, personal disfigurement, and impairment. The court also awarded Rutledge's husband $593,800 for loss of consortium, which it described as "the loss of love, companionship, consortium, and services usually provided by a spouse in good health and of unimpaired vigor and strength." On appeal the Ninth Circuit found that the trial court's findings were not clearly erroneous and refused to reverse the decision.

This case shows not only the amount of awards possible in malpractice cases but also some of the types of damage that are allowed in this type of litigation. As noted, not only may the injured patient recover damages, but when a patient is married and his or her injuries adversely affect a couple's marital relationship, the court will award monetarial damages to the patient's spouse as well. If you believe that you have been injured as a result of medical treatment, consult with an attorney experienced in medical malpractice law.