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Punitive Damages may be Appropriate for Hiding Medical Error in Medical Malpractice Case

In the case of Marsh v. Arnot Ogden Medical Center, the Appellate Division, Third Department has unanimously reversed a decision of the trial court dismissing the plaintiff’s punitive damages claims against a doctor and medical center in a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, a patient in the hospital was mistakenly injected with insulin-reducing medication, despite the fact that the patient’s daughter told the nurse that the patient was not diabetic and did not use insulin. The doctor in charge of the patient told the nursing staff to monitor the patient’s glucose levels every two hours and to notify her at home if it fell below 120. The doctor was called at 10:15 p.m. and told that the patient’s level was 107. The doctor called off further testing until morning. When the patient was next tested at 6:15 a.m., his glucose level was 15. He died shortly thereafter.

The trial court dismissed the punitive damages element of the claim against both the doctor and the hospital, but the appeals court reversed. As to the doctor, she seems to have abandoned a patient in need of emergency treatment. As to the hospital, the fact that the nurse ignored the daughter’s warning could go beyond mere carelessness and the kind of demonstrate reckless indifference which is necessary for a punitive damages claim. Also, it appears that the hospital did not update the patient’s chart to reflect the medical error until four months after the patient’s death. If this error was hidden on purpose to evade a malpractice claim, punitive damages may be appropriate for this action as well.

This case may now proceed with the punitive damages claims intact. It will be up to the jury to decide whether punitive damages are appropriate based upon the evidence it hears at trial. If you have been injured by reckless conduct or egregious behavior, or willful misconduct, be sure to discuss the issue of punitive damages with your lawyer to punish the defendant for bad behavior and set an example for others as to the type of conduct society will not condone. In New York City, contact attorney Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for assistance.