It’s not unusual for patients in medical malpractice cases to be awarded financial compensation for pain and suffering. But a recent New York case, the pain and suffering for which a patient was awarded had taken place for a relatively short period of time – 11 months. Most cases with high pain and suffering awards are in situations where the patient lived for years with a disability caused by the malpractice.
The patient in this case, Theresa Capwell, was a 33-year-old mother of three who was in good health until she began experiencing abdominal pain and was admitted to Westchester Medical Center. Capwell allegedly had pancreatitis, but was misdiagnosed as having ovarian cancer.
This misdiagnosis led to improper treatment, which led to respiratory distress so severe that Capwell had to be placed on a ventilator. She soon suffered a tension pneumothorax, a heart attack and anoxic brain damage. She spent the last 11 months of her life hospitalized, bedridden and unable to communicate. After Capwell’s death, her family sued the medical center and its doctors, arguing that the failure to recognize that her health problems were due to pancreatitis and that her subsequent misdiagnosis caused her almost a year of suffering.
Capwell’s husband testified about their blissful 11-year marriage, his wife’s devotion to her family, and the deprivation he’d suffered because of her death. A jury awarded the family $3 million in pre-death pain and suffering, and $4 million in loss of consortium – both of these awards were based on the 11-month period prior to Capwell’s death.
The defendants appealed, arguing that the amount of the verdict was excessive. The plaintiffs countered, arguing that they were also entitled to wrongful death damages – compensation for economic losses sustained by the family due to Capwell’s death. The judge upheld the $3 million pain and suffering award but reduced the loss of consortium award to $1 million.
The judge also agreed with the plaintiffs that there should be a new trial on the issue of wrongful death damages, to determine whether in addition to causing Capwell’s pre-death injuries, the malpractice also caused her death. The new trial could add several million dollars to the verdict if the jury decides to compensate Capwell’s three young daughters for loss of parental guidance.