$9M Malpractice Award Thought To Be Wyoming’s Largest
A $9 million medical malpractice verdict in the case of an oil-field worker with a broken neck is thought to be the largest in Wyoming history.
The Associated Press reports that the award against Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette far eclipses the state's previous medical malpractice high of $1.5 million.
The case began in December 2008, when Montana resident Louis Prager was driving a truck for his employer at the time, Conquest Energies Co. On a patch of icy road, Prager's truck went off the road and rolled several times before landing on its top.
Prager complained of neck and shoulder pain to emergency personnel, who took him to the Gillette hospital.
According to the lawsuit, the emergency room physician, Dr. Brian Cullison, ordered X-rays and CT scans of Prager's head, facial bones and thoracic spine but not of his neck.
Prager, then 51 years old, was discharged the same day and went to a co-worker's home to recuperate.
Four days later, according to the lawsuit, he woke up with extreme pain in his neck and left shoulder and weakness in his arm.
Prager returned to the emergency room where further tests disclosed he had suffered a broken neck. Prager underwent surgery to stabilize his neck the same day.
The surgery stopped further injury but could not undo the nerve damage, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, filed by Prager and his wife, Rebecca, claimed the defendants were negligent with his care.
During a nine-day trial in October, defense attorneys argued Prager's pain and limited movement in his left arm resulted from a worsening and progressing shoulder injury, not failure to diagnose his cervical fracture.
The jury verdict, returned Oct. 27, awarded Prager $7 million. It also awarded his wife $2 million for harm to her marriage and loss of consortium.
The Cheyenne attorneys who represented the hospital, Billie Addleman and Richard Schneebeck, didn't return a phone call seeking comment. Neither did a spokesman for the Wyoming Medical Society.
Tom Metier, an attorney with offices in Cheyenne and Fort Collins, Colo., was the trial counsel for the case. He said Prager is in constant pain, can't work and will require more surgery.
The president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, Diana Rhodes of Cheyenne, said the Prager jury recognized a medical error had occurred.
"The message that jury was sending is, Wyoming citizens will not accept medical care below standards," Rhodes said.