Denver attorneys John Palmeri and Mary Byrne Fletcher recently completed a jury trial in a medical malpractice case in which the jury returned a defense verdict in favor of Gordon & Rees's client.
A 43-year old woman presented to an occupational medicine doctor, represented by Gordon & Rees, with mild headache and soft-tissue injuries after a work-related motor vehicle accident. Over time, her symptoms gradually worsened to include severe headaches, vision problems, body tremors and skin mottling. After six months of treatment, including referrals to multiple specialists, on the recommendation of a neurologist, the occupational medicine doctor referred the patient to a rheumatologist to confirm the neurologist’s presumed diagnosis of polyarteritis nodosa, a serious blood vessel disease that can be life threatening. At this time, the occupational medicine doctor discharged the plaintiff from his care because polyarteritis nodosa is not work related. As a result, her workers’ compensation benefits ceased. The rheumatologist, however, concluded that she did not have polyarteritis nodosa. She appealed the workers’ compensation benefits decision and, eventually, her benefits were restored and back paid with interest.
The woman sued the occupational medicine doctor for malpractice and her workers’ compensation insurer for bad faith. The bad faith case settled prior to trial. The claims against the occupational medicine doctor proceeded to trial. At trial, plaintiff argued that the occupational medicine doctor misdiagnosed her with the rare, life-threatening disease of polyarteritis nodosa and improperly treated it by prescribing prednisone. The doctor denied negligence. He argued that it was reasonable for him to rely on the neurologist’s suggestion of polyarteritis nodosa. Although the doctor concluded she was no longer eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, he referred her to a rheumatologist for evaluation of polyarteritis nodosa. Further, steroids were the proper treatment for polyarteritis nodosa and posed little risk of harm if she did not have polyarteritis nodosa. Plaintiff sought recovery for non-economic and permanent impairment damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the doctor.