U.S. District Judge Landya McCafferty ordered that VA must pay $21.5M to stroke victim in record-breaking medical malpractice case. It is the largest individual personal-injury judgment in New Hampshire history. The judge ruled that the VA failed to properly diagnose and treat a stroke victim. New Hampshire’s former highest personal-injury award was $21.06M in a 2012 pharmaceutical case later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The details of this case will gut you like a fish unless you’re part of the VA’s defense team. Michael Farley, a 60-year-old Navy veteran who was permanently disabled due to service-related injuries, went to the VA in 2010. He was experiencing partial blindness and headaches.
There, the urgent-care physician determined that Mr. Farley had likely suffered a stroke and needed to be transferred to a facility capable of providing him higher-level stroke care. The doctor made the transfer order. However, at some point the doctor became confused as to the best way to handle Mr. Farley’s case and canceled the order.
Instead, the doctor made a decision that will make your blood run cold. Without consulting a neurologist or a cardiologist, Dr. Confused discharged Mr. Farley telling him to take two baby aspirin per day and make a cardiology appointment. After tests confirmed that Mr. Farley had likely already suffered a stroke.
Mr. Farley followed doctor’s orders. A month later, he visited his primary-care doctor who was unaware that Mr. Farley had suffered a stroke. Talk about great recordkeeping and communication.
The day after his routine check-up, Mr. Farley was found at home unresponsive. He had suffered a second stroke. Unfortunately for him, this one was not as minor as the first. The second, massive, stroke left Mr. Farley with what is known as “locked-in syndrome.” In effect, he is lucid, fully conscious and able to feel pain, but he can only control his eye movements and move his head slightly. He is currently in a living nightmare.
As Judge McCafferty wrote in the ruling, “Mr. Farley lay trapped inside his paralyzed body, lucid and mentally alive, but he could not communicate that to his caregivers and family — who were in his hospital room discussing end-of-life scenarios.” She further wrote that Mr. Farley suffered from “harrowing psychological trauma” due to this incident.
“Harrowing psychological trauma.” Let that sink in for a moment. This poor man, who had once proudly served his country, lay in a hospital bed listening to his loved ones talk about the end of his life and wasn’t able to say a thing. “Harrowing psychological trauma?” In my “other life” I write fiction. I can say that what this Navy vet went through exceeds anything I’ve ever done to a fictional victim in one of my novels and I have a wicked imagination.
Judge McCafferty wrote that the urgent-care doctor “inadvertently and negligently divorced himself from Mr. Farley’s care” when he didn’t follow medical standards for testing, specialist referrals, medications and follow-up care for stroke victims. One of Mr. Farley’s expert witnesses testified that the VA essentially “medically abandoned” Mr. Farley.
According to Mr. Farley’s legal team, while this honorable veteran’s life is forever changed, the verdict at least “allows him to spend it with the people that he cares about and that care about him.” Speaking of the verdict, Mr. Farley was awarded approximately $13.4M for the cost of medical care for the rest of his life and $8.2M for pain and suffering.
I cannot adequately express my sorrow and rage at what happened to Mr. Farley and his family at the hands of Dr. Confused. Money doesn’t fix everything, but at least he and his loved ones won’t have to worry about medical bills. They can focus on spending as much quality time together as possible, which, for Mr. Farley, still won’t be easy. He can’t speak, he can’t write, he can’t hug his loved ones. All for want of proper medical care.
While Mr. Farley and his loved ones figure out how to live their new lives, I can only hope that Dr. Confused is stuck trying to figure out how to live with himself. I, on the other hand, am presently plotting a storyline in which the villain – a doctor with a bad bedside manner – finds himself trapped in a body he can no longer control. Maybe I’ll send Dr. Confused an autographed copy.