Physician Setting Up Drug IV
22 November 2017

Arizona Woman In Vegetative State Wins $12M Medication Error Lawsuit

After three weeks of trial, an Arizona State jury on November 6, 2017 awarded $12 million in compensation to a woman left in a vegetative state after being administered the incorrect drug. Similar medication errors injure around 7 million American patients every year, according to researchers at Drexel University.

Tucson Hospital Held Liable In Malpractice Case

Held in the Pima County Superior Court, the jury trial saw attorneys representing Esmerelda Tripp accuse Banner University Medical Center (UMC), a hospital on the campus of the University of Arizona, of providing the woman with negligent health care.

Doctor Using Medical Device

Tripp had a personal history of seizures, KVOA reports, and was taking the common blood thinner Coumadin at the time of her hospitalization. After experiencing unreported symptoms, Tripp went to the emergency room at Banner, a facility she had visited multiple times in the past, court records show. This time, however, would be different.

Young Doctor Administered Wrong Meds, Family Claims

As the woman’s attorneys argued at trial, their client was treated by a doctor who had graduated medical school only 8 weeks previous. The plaintiff’s mother told reporters at KGUN9¬†that the physician thought her mother was suffering from appendicitis. She was administered Profilnine, an intravenous drug made from human blood plasma that is used to treat excessive bleeding events.

It turns out, as doctors from the hospital would later acknowledge, that Tripp was allergic to the drug. Just hours later, a blood clot had reached her heart, cutting off the supply of vital oxygen and nutrients to her brain. Tripp suffered permanent brain damage, physicians say. She’s been in a vegetative state ever since the incident, which occurred on September 13, 2013. Today, her family says that she can respond to their voices with a limited range of facial expressions and hand gestures.

Doctors Continue To Deny Negligence

Lawyers for the hospital have stood behind the medical team’s conduct. While noting that the case’s outcome is certainly tragic, a statement released after the jury’s verdict blames Tripp herself, at least in part, for her injuries:

“When Ms. Tripp came to the emergency room on September 13, 2013, she provided inaccurate information to her emergency physicians about her health history. This included major health events and a drug allergy that could not be substantiated despite a thorough review of her medical records. She also admitted to taking blood thinners at four times the level that was prescribed to her.”

Needless to say, Tripp’s family vigorously denies the hospital’s portrayal of events. And her daughter, Jamaica Tripp-Serrano, points out that a doctor admitted to the mistake. After the drug was administered, Tripp-Serrano said, “a doctor admitted to my father, ‘Hey, we messed up, we gave her the wrong medication and we don’t know what is going to happen after this.’ “

Unanimous Jury Verdict Awards $12 Million In Damages

It seems the Arizona jury was persuaded by the family’s argument. In a State where the legal doctrine of comparative negligence allows for liability to be split between plaintiffs and defendants, the jury saw fit to assign only 20% of the responsibility to Ms. Tripp. The remaining 80% of fault was assessed to Banner University Medical Center. Along with individual medical providers, the hospital was ordered to pay Tripp $12 million in damages.

Tripp’s husband, four children and eight grandchildren are taking care of her now. For the past four years, the mother has been living on a bed in the den of their Tucson home. Her daughter, Jamaica Tripp-Serrano, says the jury’s verdict is small comfort. “Honestly, there is no amount of money that can bring my mom back,” Tripp-Serrano told reporters at KGUN9. “There is no amount of money that can change what they did.”

In January 2016, Banner UMC was penalized by Medicare for being rated worse than 75% of all other hospitals on patient injury rates and healthcare-related infections, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

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