$3 million settlement for family in King-Harbor death [UPDATED]
Los Angeles County supervisors have agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the children of Edith Rodriguez, the woman who died after writhing in pain for 45 minutes on the waiting-room floor of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center, according to an attorney representing the family.
Rodriguez's death nearly two years ago attracted national attention, becoming a symbol of an indifferent emergency system. A triage nurse had dismissed her complaints in the early morning of May 9, 2007. A security videotape showed a janitor mopping around Rodriguez and other staff walking past.
Authorities also released two 911 calls of people pleading for help for Rodriguez. Each had their concerns dismissed by dispatchers. [UPDATE: In the first call, a dispatcher said help could not be sent because Rodriguez was already at a hospital. In the second, a dispatcher curtly told the female caller that it was not a "life-threatening emergency" and offered to give her the number for the business line.]
Her three children, ages 24, 25 and 27, alleged civil-rights violations and medical malpractice, and they initially requested $1 million for every minute Rodriquez was denied treatment -- $45 million in all.
"This settlement is reasonable and fair, especially in this economy," said Frank Casco, attorney for the children. Rodriguez's boyfriend, Jose Prado, who accompanied her to the hospital and placed one of the 911 calls for help from a payphone, is poised to receive an additional $250,000 settlement.
County officials confirmed that a settlement with the children had been reached but did not give an amount. A deputy county counsel said last year that $250,000 had been offered to Prado.
Rodriguez's death -- first reported by The Times -- helped to precipitate the closure of the long-troubled hospital after federal regulators determined that staffers had failed to deliver a minimum standard of care. Rodriguez, 43, had been released from the King-Harbor emergency room just hours before her final visit -- her fourth in three days to seek help for abdominal pain. She died after suffering a perforated bowel.
As the lawsuit brought by her children moved toward trial, attorneys working for the county inadvertently made public an internal report prepared by an outside firm hired to assess the county's liability risk. That assessment, reviewed by The Times, indicated that that Rodriguez could have been saved if she had been properly treated and suggested that the county attempt to settle the case or risk an "adverse" result.
A 2004 Times series on failures at King found the county had paid $20.1 million in malpractice cases during fiscal years 1999 to 2003, more than any of the state's other public hospitals or the University of California, once adjusted for the number of patients.
-- Garrett Therolf
Photo: Sisters Christina, left, and Kimberly Rodriguez embrace at the funeral of their mother, Edith Isabel Rodriguez, in Pico Rivera. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times