Gary Saldana was an elderly man who needed to be treated at the DaVita Almond Wood Dialysis Clinic in Madera, Colorado, in October 2010. He was healthy otherwise, and even though Saldana suffered from diabetes and blood pressure, his family said these were not life-threatening ailments. Yet, he never left the clinic. Saldana passed away during the procedure, and only later, the family’s attorney, Molly Booker, would claim both the patient and his physician, much like two additional plaintiffs in similar lawsuits, were unaware he was given a drug called GranuFlo.
A wrongful death lawsuit following the incident claimed the Denver-based dialysis company knew GranuFlo could cause toxic pH imbalances and alkalosis, yet it made the switch to the drug, anyway, so it could save significant money. The change was made without making patients aware that an alternative was being used or any risks associated with the drug.
“You can think of it like if you change from generic Motrin to a brand name Motrin. It is still Motrin, but if the generic and the brand name had a different strength, you would have to take a different dose,” said Booker, adding, “When you are working with vulnerable patients who don’t have long to live, you cannot hide behind their short lifespan in order to commit fraud and negligence.”
The dialysis center failed to inspect and review the composition of GranuFlo and notice alarming blood changes when patients returned for dialysis treatments, according to the complaints. DaVita should have “been aware of the uptick in reports of death and complications” related to GranuFlo.
A jury sided with the Saldana family and two other patients who died who died at the center after suffering cardiac arrests. Their combined award was close to $384 million with each of the three parties receiving $125 million in punitive damages and compensatory damages ranging from $1.5 million to $5 million.
“There were several things DaVita could and should have done, but did not do, to protect its patients…DaVita ignored many red flags that preceded the loss of life of these three patients and many others,” said Rob Carey, lead trial attorney for the national law firm Hagens Berman in conjunction with the North Carolina-based Paynter Law Firm who also represented the plaintiffs. “It is our mission now to fight for the rights of those who lost their lives due to DaVita’s abhorrent oversight and negligence.”
Davita responded to the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, stating, “The facts in the trial contradict the allegations upon which this verdict is premised. There was substantial evidence that the GranuFlo product is safe and effective, and no evidence that we, or the manufacturer of GranuFlo, hid any data contradicting its safety or effectiveness.” The company added that the safety of patients will always remain their priority.
The center also promised to continue litigating. “We will pursue any and all avenues of appeal to overcome this unjust verdict and believe we will be successful upon appeal,” representatives said.