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West Virginia Woman Wins $1.54 Million Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Verdict

Posted on Aug 29, 2008
According to Curtis Johnson of The Herald-Dispatch out of Huntington, West Virginia, a Cabell County jury awarded the widow of Thomas L. Thornburg $1.54 million damages over a 2002 lawsuit involving medical malpractice and wrongful death that led to her late husband's severe brain damage.

The suit was against Huntington Anesthesia Group, Inc., which was accused of failing to notice the deteriorating vital signs of their patient. Thornburg entered surgery so that surgeons could install an automatic implantable cardiovascular defibrillator at St. Mary's Medical Center. The anesthesia team's inadequate attention to Thornburg's lack of breathing led to an extended period of time in which his brain was deprived of the oxygen it needed. He suffered severe brain damage.

The trail consisted of a week of evidence and testimony, which resulted in an August 13 verdict that cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing but faulted a nursing anesthetist for negligence during the surgical procedure. More specifically, Dr. Stan Striz was found to have met the accepted standard of care, but Robert Zhea, the certified registered nursing anesthetist, was blamed for the man's permanent brain damage.

Although the surgery was a success as far as his defibrillator was concerned, Thornton's quality of life was severely damaged - with his overall health and mental condition preventing a 2006 operation to further repair his heart. After a second cardiac episode, doctors decided not to continue treatment.

This million-dollar payment comes on the heels of a pre-trail settlement between Thornton's widow and St. Mary's Medical Center, in which the hospital in question paid $115,000 for Thornton's wrongful death.

Although Thornton's wife is remaining anonymous and declining comment, the family attorney spoke about the final decision.

"I was real glad for my client," he said. "They get some compensation for the loss of a husband and loss of a father. That's the whole purpose. It doesn't replace him. It's silly to think that, but it certainly gives them some feeling that justice was done and that is our way, in the United States, of compensating victims of negligence."

Neither Huntington Anesthesia Group, Inc., St. Mary's Medical Center, or their attorneys could be reached for comment.

The break down of the verdict included a large $1.1 million for non-economic losses. Although this number is greater than the $850,000 limit that West Virginia imposes on such cases, the case was from 2002 and pre-dated the medical malpractice reforms. The award will be divided between Thornton's widow and their two children, with the widow receiving 70 percent of the money and his children each receiving 15 percent.

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