Who is responsible if while riding a motorcycle you are struck by a reckless driver and then fall victim to medical malpractice in the hospital? Suppose you left your helmet in the garage that morning and when the dust settled after the wreck you had a serious concussion. So, are you, the reckless driver, or the hospital responsible for your injuries? The exact answer depends on a state’s tort law, but as a general rule it’s safe to say that you could hold the reckless driver responsible for everything, including the doctor’s malpractice, or you could sue the doctor just for the damages that resulted from the malpractice, but not for the injuries from the accident. In Georgia, as long as the jury attributed less than half the blame on you, for riding without a helmet, you could recover from the driver, doctor or both. In my opinion, juries in Fulton County or Dekalb County (two Atlanta metro counties) would probably let you largely off the hook and hold the reckless driver or doctor responsible.
A jury in Milwaukee awarded Daniel R. Nelson, a now 50-year-old restaurant owner and former competitive runner, $2.1 million in a medical malpractice case that took nearly nine years to come to trial. Nelson and his wife were riding their motorcycle when a car pulled out in front of them. His wife was only hospitalized 10 days, but Nelson spent 13 months in Froedtert Hospital, the main teaching hospital of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Eighteen days after the wreck, Nelson was transferred to rehabilitation and was able to walk 200 feet, with assistance. He still had a tracheostomy and his jaw was wired shut, but he seemed to be on the road to recovery. The next morning, Nelson became still and his color changed. After a nurse determined that the tracheostomy tube was blocked, Dr. Lorraine C. Novich-Welter was called. The jury found that Dr. Novich-Welter waited too long before calling a “code 4,” a request for an emergency team, and that Nelson suffered irreversible anoxic brain injury as a result of the delay. Nelson was comatose for the next seven weeks. When he finally awoke, he was left wheelchair bound.
The article doesn’t explain why the case took so long to come to trial. Perhaps appeals and crowded court dockets dragged the case out. Justice is rarely swift, but this case was unusually slow. I’m involved in a case right now that has taken as long; fortunately for me I was only hired about a year ago.
Of the $2.1 million verdict, about $1 million was for medical care. I would guess that the jury reduced a potentially higher award because of serious injuries from the wreck, before the malpractice occurred. I would also guess that the reckless driver was sued long ago and that his insurance company settled for the relatively small policy limits.
Be careful out there. The roads are filled with asylum inmates out on their day passes.
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