August 27, 2001-University of Virginia Medical Center to Pay $ 1.5 Million for Wrongful Death
The family of a Franklin County man who suffered a brain injury last year at the University of Virginia Medical Center and subsequently died received a $ 1.5 million wrongful death settlement Friday, the maximum civil penalty allowed under Virginia law for medical malpractice.
David Allen Hudson, 23, died last summer, 13 weeks after undergoing surgery at the hospital to treat severe burn injuries. His mother and father, Mark Hudson and Donna Wilkes of Franklin County, and two sisters, Tiffany Hudson and Tabitha Wedemeyer, filed a medical malpractice claim against the university alleging wrongful death.
UVa, in conjunction with the state, which owns the university and its medical center, agreed to pay the $ 1.5 million. In accepting the settlement, the family agreed never to sue. Judge Leslie Osborn of the Mecklenburg County Circuit Court approved the settlement Friday, which transferred $ 120,000 to the university to cover medical expenses Hudson still owed, leaving $ 1.38 million to the family. Their Danville lawyer, Jim Daniel, received $ 326,314 of that sum.
Hudson's family "alleged that the hospital didn't take good care of him," said Frank "Bunky" Miller, the attorney who represented the state and university. Miller said the university does not admit or deny the family's allegation, but acknowledged in court papers that Hudson died due to "injuries" he suffered while in the hospital.
"We paid for his death," Miller said.
Hudson was burned over 40 percent of his body on May 8, 2000, while working at Roanoke Co-op Franklin County Branch in Wirtz, a Southern States Cooperative store formerly called Montgomery Farm Supply. He was in the process of removing diesel fuel that had been mistakenly put in a fork lift and refilling the lift with gasoline when the fuel caught fire. He was flown to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and then transferred to the UVa medical center, which has a burn unit.
After surgery the next day to attach temporary skin grafts, Hudson stopped breathing for at least several minutes in the anesthesia recovery room, suffering brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, according to medical records. Although he was resuscitated, Hudson never regained consciousness and lapsed into a vegetative state. Assured he would never recover, the family had his feeding tube disconnected.
At his family's request, he was transferred to Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount, where he died July 27, 2000, of a bacterial infection, complicated by his brain injury and the burns, according to his death certificate and Rocky Mount physician Lyne Aigner, who took up Hudson's care after he left UVa.
The family said it was told that while Hudson was in the anesthesia recovery room, he was not hooked to vital-signs monitors that would have alerted medical personnel when he stopped breathing. Medical experts who analyzed Hudson's hospital records for the family's lawyer estimated he was without oxygen for eight to 15 minutes.
Daniel, the family lawyer, attributed Hudson's brain injury to "some type of human error -- just failing to check on David while he was in the recovery room."
Legal experts said UVa's payment of the full amount means university officials were convinced the hospital was legally responsible for Hudson's brain injury.
"Based on my experience, it is extremely unlikely that the University of Virginia would pay the most that could be awarded in court voluntarily unless well-credentialed medical experts had told them that the case was a case of malpractice," said Thomas Williamson, a Richmond medical malpractice, personal injury and product liability lawyer not involved in the case.
Payment of the malpractice cap without a trial "usually means there is not much doubt about the negligence," said Michael Krauss, a law professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington.
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