The Largest Medical Malpractice Payouts

The largest medical malpractice payouts in the last five years, and half of them involve injury to a baby during a delivery. But as scary as these verdicts are, it's important to remember they are far from ordinary.

More than half of all doctors will be sued for medical malpractice before they turn 50 years old, so it’s understandable that physicians view malpractice as a blade hanging over their heads.

Even worse, malpractice claims can take years (four on average) to be resolved. In 2012 there were more than 12,000 payouts, which cost a total of $3.5 billion. The good news, though, is that payouts have been on the decline since 2003. The payouts in 2012 were 3.4% lower than in 2011. Of course, not all cases are created equal, so we’ve compiled a list of the largest medical malpractice payouts from just the last five years.

More than half of the top 10 lawsuits involve injury to a baby during delivery.

Perhaps not so surprising considering Ob/Gyns are the third most sued doctors, according to a recent Medscape survey.

The world of law can be a difficult one to rank. A $19 million verdict can get stuck in appeals and eventually toppled (as one case was), often years after the initial award. Cases were also not included if insufficient information was found during research.

Another issue with verdicts is that despite what the jury might award, the plaintiffs might not get to see all that money. For instance, despite one award topping $10 million, the plaintiffs could only receive $7.5 million because of a state cap.

Many states limit the non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases; for instance, California, Colorado and Kansas cap at $250,000, while Maryland caps at $785,000. But there are also 12 states that forbid caps on medical malpractice awards: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio (for wrongful death cases), Pennsylvania, Washington and Wyoming.

As scary as the following verdicts are, it’s important to keep in mind that these are far from the ordinary. The Medscape survey revealed that the plaintiff’s monetary award was over $2 million is just 2% of cases.

Here are the 10 largest medical malpractice payouts in the last five years.

10. $11 million payout

State: Arizona

Award date: 2009

A patient on life support at an assisted living facility died after ingesting foreign objects. An autopsy on Earl Scherrer, a 36-year-old traumatic brain injury victim, showed items such as plastic bags, candy wrappers and ketchup packets in his stomach and small intestines. The facility was also found to enter false notations in his chart of care given on the days the patient’s wife had him at home.

9. $11.4

State: Wisconsin

Award date: 2008

A Wisconsin family was awarded $11.4 million in damages for their son who suffers from cerebral palsy as a result of his birth in 2005. While the doctor was cleared of wrongdoing, the nurse midwife and nurse were charged with the negligence because they failed to act appropriately and deliver the baby in a timely fashion when they misread the monitoring, which showed the baby in distress.

8. $15 million

State: New York

Award date: 2012

Stephanie Tesoriero’s doctor missed her breast cancer despite a lump the size of a marble in 2002. The plaintiff first discovered the lump, but her doctor ruled “no evidence of malignancy.” And yet, tests less than a year and a half later revealed the lump had grown to the size of a golf ball.

Tesoriero sued her doctor after she underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments to send her cancer into remission. The cancer, unfortunately, has returned and spread to her bones and Tesoriero must undergo chemo treatments nearly every week for the rest of her life.

7. $20.5 million

State: Pennsylvania

Award date: 2008

Jurors found the doctor and medical center negligent in their care for Laura White during the birth of her son in 2001. As a result of injuries suffered during the birth, White’s son suffers from cerebral palsy, is almost blind and has no use of his hands.

This award was to be split so that the Whites received $2 million for heath care expenses and related costs and the son received $18.5 million when he turned 18 for his lost earning potential, pain and suffering, and future medical expenses.

The Supreme Court denied an appeal by the doctor in 2012.

6. $23.2 million

State: Minnesota

Award date: 2010

2007

During the delivery of the daughter of Elise Rodgers and Matthew Larson, the baby didn’t receive enough oxygen. As a result she has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, neurological problems and seizures. This appears to be a record verdict in Minnesota for a medical malpractice. The award broke down to $1.7 million for past medical care; $10 million for future care and emotional distress; and $1.5 million for loss of earning capacity.

5. $25 million

State: Virginia

Award date: 2013

The plaintiff, Christopher Denton, 37, was misdiagnosed for a heart condition that resulted in a debilitating heart attack. When the plaintiff underwent a cardiac catheterization test, the results showed a 70% blockage of a main heart artery, but the cardiologist reported the heart arteries were clear and free from disease.

Denton’s heart medication was discontinued and he was sent home with over the counter anti-inflammatory medication. Just three months later Denton suffered a massive heart attack and has since undergone seven cardiac catheterizations and by-pass surgery. He’s likely to need a heart transplant in five years and his life expectancy has been reduced to 17 years.

4. $31 million

Unborn child starved of oxygen

State: Florida

Award date: 2012

Although the award was just recorded in 2012, the case stems from the birth of a boy in 1998. The mother was given too many drugs to stimulate labor, which starved the unborn child of oxygen and resulted in severe cerebral palsy.

There is a cap on medical malpractice awards, and the legislature approved $15 million of the verdict.

3. $38.5 million

State: Florida

Award date: 2013

The plaintiff, Dale Whyte, went to see a doctor about cramps in his leg and discomfort in his left shoulder in 2008. His doctor arranged to perform manual joint manipulation of all of Whyte’s major joints under anesthesia. During the procedure, there was a loss of oxygen to the brain, and Whyte remains in a coma four years later.

During the trial the doctor conceded that the procedure was not necessary, but that he was under hard financial times and looking for a new source of income.

The jury awarded Whyte $23.58 million for lost earnings and past and future medical expenses and $5 million for pain and suffering. Plus, his two daughters were awarded $5 million each for loss of their father’s services and companionship.

2. $58.6 million

State: Connecticut

Award date: 2011

Domenic and Cathy D’Attilo were awarded $38.5 million for the injuries their son sustained during his birth in 2003. Despite signs of fetal distress, the doctor failed to perform a timely c-section delivery, which resulted in the child suffering significant brain damage. The D’Attilo’s son is fed through a tub, uses a wheelchair and is unable to eat, talk or walk.

1. $74.5 million

State: California

Award date: 2012

According to the law firm, plaintiff Jennifer Blunt originally was not going to seek a lawsuit after her daughter suffered serious birth injuries that resulted in cerebral palsy. However, the responsible doctor, who acted negilgently in several instances (not assessing contractions, not performing an episiotomy, not using forceps to assist the delivery), and the hospital refused to provide answers, compensation or apologies.

During the trial it was also proven that hospital staff did not properly intubate or ventilate the child and that evidence was destroyed and medical reords falsified to cover up errors during the delivery.

California has a cap on past non-economic damages and the verdict was broken down as such: $53 million for future medical costs, $10 million for future lost earnings, $225,000 for past non-economic damages for the baby, $7.5 million for future non-economic damages for the baby, and $3.8 million to the parents for past and future non-economic damages.

If you know of a missing malpractice case from the last five years that should be here, email the author at ljoszt@mdmag.com.