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University of Maryland Hospital – $10 Million Verdict

UMMS Loses $10 Million Dollar Case.  
It took a Baltimore City jury just half an hour yesterday to decide on a $10 million award in the wrongful death suit against the University of Maryland Medical System, giving the parents of a 19 year old who died at that the hospital $1 Million more than they asked for.

The Daily Record

Friday, October 25, 2002

UMMS loses $10M case

By Alisa Bralove

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

It took a Baltimore City jury just half an hour yesterday to decide on a $10 million award in a wrongful death suit against the University of Maryland Medical System, giving the parents of a 19-year-old who died at the hospital $1 million more than they asked for.

The parents of Benjamin Strange, who was mentally retarded, sued the hospital alleging that delayed diagnosis and treatment, coupled with an inexperienced doctor who had only worked there a little over a week, resulted in their son’s death from a rare blood disorder.

According to the family’s attorney, Robert Weltchek, the meaning behind the verdict is more important than the money.

That’s a good thing, considering that the statutory cap on noneconomic damages will reduce the award significantly.

“I think this jury spoke loud and clear. Giving more than I asked for was sending a message,” Weltchek said. “The family really wanted them to know that they mistreated [their] son and that’s why he died. My whole focus was making sure that the hospital got the message.”

M. Natalie McSherry, who represented the hospital, said that she plans to review the grounds for appeal.

“We truly believe that the jury allowed its emotions and sympathy to outweigh the evidence,” she said. “Clearly we’re disappointed in the verdict. Our sympathies have always been with the family.”

McSherry contends that the doctors did everything they could to diagnose Strange. “He ws only there a little over 72 hours after a six-week illness,” she said.

Strange, who died after four days in the hospital, had suffered a series of seizures in the summer of 1999. He was admitted to the Anne Arundel Medical Center, where doctors found that his platelet count had dropped to 7,000. A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000-300,000.

“Being a suburban hospital, they decided he needed to be worked up by a specialist,” Weltchek said. “University of Maryland agreed to send an ambulance to pick him up and transfer him.”

Strange arrived at University of Maryland Hospital around 2 a.m. on Sept. 9. That morning, Dr. Alan Eskenazi narrowed down the diagnosis to one of two afflictions: lupus or thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura (TTP).

Doctors learned two and a half days later that Strange had TTP, the rare but deadly blood disorder which causes clotting and inhibits the flow of oxygen to major organs.

“If you don’t treat the TTP, the patient will die 100 percent of the time,” Weltchek said. “The basic hematological textbooks say you don’t delay treatment even if you don’t know what it is. The treatment is 90 percent curative. They don’t know what causes TTP, but they know it needs to be treated immediately.”

Eskenazi left Strange in the care of Dr. Kaveri Suryanaryan, who had been a hematologist at the hospital for just over a week.

“They went as far as to say the care was heroic,” Weltchek said of the defense. “This must have really outraged the jury.”