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Veteran wins medical malpractice suit vs. Pennsylvania hospital

Medical mistakes make the headlines every day: wrong-site surgeries, failure to diagnose diseases and other examples of medical malpractice are unfortunate reminders that our health care system is not immune from medical professional negligence. One recent story from a Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center here in Pennsylvania, however, serves as a reminder that medical malpractice can have wide-ranging consequences beyond physical injuries.

In 2007, a former U.S. Marine returned home from Iraq and found work as a financial advisor. A combat veteran, he went to the VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre for medical care and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was prescribed medication, but as his condition declined over the following months, 10 successive attempts to see a physician at the VA or review his medication were unsuccessful.

The medication, a judge would later rule, was a substance likely to result in addiction and self-medication with other drugs; after four months on it with no other PTSD treatment, the patient dressed in all black and broke into a Scranton pharmacy to steal drugs. Facing criminal charges, the patient also found himself out of a job.

Those charges, however, were recently dropped and a judge awarded the veteran $3.7 million as a result of a medical malpractice suit. It was the hospital’s negligence in not providing PTSD care and in prescribing the wrong medication that caused his worsened medical condition, the judge ruled, and ultimately what lead to the break-in.

This case demonstrates that the scope of what can constitute medical malpractice, and what kinds of losses may be compensable, may be broader than many Pennsylvania residents would expect. The $3.7 million award included compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering, as well as humiliation and embarrassment; future lost earnings and noneconomic damages, both past and future; and even compensation for his wife’s loss of consortium.

Whether patients are suffering from a chronic disease, an acute physical condition or a mental illness like PTSD, they depend on medical professionals to prescribe and manage their medications correctly, and provide appropriate follow-up care. A medical malpractice lawsuit can make sure negligent providers are held accountable and patients’ rights are protected.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Pennsylvania veteran awarded $3.7 M in suit against VA,” Saranac Hale Spencer, Jan. 21, 2013