Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Riverside jury awards Arizona couple $16.5 million in medical malpractice suit

A Riverside jury has awarded an Arizona couple $16.5 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit against a Southern California neurosurgeon.

In Riverside Superior Court on Friday, jurors found Christopher Pham negligent in his treatment of Trent Hughes in 2003. They were unanimous on all counts except for one, for which one juror said the court should have awarded more money. 

Hughes, according to his attorneys, was jolted while off-roading in Arizona on Nov. 2, 2003, and felt a searing pain in his lower back and a "slight tingling" in his feet. He was airlifted to the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.

Hughes' lawyers argued that Pham, the neurosurgeon on call, was required to report to the hospital within 20 minutes. Instead, the doctor did not examine Hughes until the next day and did not operate on him until Nov. 4. By that time, they argued, the damage was done, leaving the former owner of a Phoenix air-conditioning company a paraplegic.

The attorneys also said in court that Pham had planted documents that made it appear as if he were at the hospital when he was not.

"It appeared to be one lie after another in an effort to cover his tracks," said David Bricker, one of the attorneys representing Trent and Lisa Hughes.

The couple settled with the hospital two years earlier. 

Burt Rosenblatt, co-counsel for Hughes, noted that in spite of the multimillion-dollar verdict, a portion of the jury award totaling $3.75 million would be reduced to $500,000 due to California law limiting the amounts awarded in malpractice lawsuits.

"The law is very outdated and very unfair to plaintiffs who have legitimate claims and legitimate rights to be compensated," Rosenblatt said. "At least some money will now be available for Mr. and Mrs. Hughes to make their lives a little easier."

-- Amina Khan
Comments () | Archives (10)

This is a good example of why we should not try to outlaw lawsuits for malpractice, whatever the Republicans say -- this guy is paralyzed because of a doctor's malpractice and subsequent lying.
Of course, if we had universal healthcare in this country, somebody injured by medical malpractice wouldn't need to sue in order to get taken care of.
So the doctor could be disciplined by some legal process, so he wouldn't hurt anybody else like this again, and the person injured would have lifetime access to the medical care and personal assistance he needs.
This would all be cheaper, too -- a trial like the one described here is very expensive, and there are doctors whose entire "practice" is testifying in lawsuits; they could be treating patients instead.

To supporters of Obamacare:

This is the reason why Americans can't afford health care! The current administration (and the GOP for that matter) are delusional in their attempt to pass off soaring health care costs on insurance providers alone. While these companies should definitely share in the blame, it's the lack of tort reform that will ensure that this epidemic will never be solved.

Let me be clear: health care reform is urgently needed. However, the devil is in the details! While allowing citizens the ability to buy out-of-state policies, and requiring young adults to join in the insurance pool will help drive down costs; they by no means offset the outrageous settlements being awarded for medical malpractice lawsuits.

Take this story for example: A guy goes off-roading and suffers a spinal injury. While I empathize for his loss of mobility, I can't be completely sympathetic because when you participate in risky activities you run the risk of serious injury. Becoming paralyzed while off-roading is well within the realm of possibility when you set out on such an endeavor... And while, yes, the doctor didn't respond promptly; people need to accept responsibility for their own actions.

Bottom line: If we continue to award millions of dollars in place of requiring a modicum of personal responsibility, this country will be bankrupted by ballooning health care costs. Nothing short of tort reform and a major overhaul at the American Medical Association (i.e. not limiting the supply of doctors to the market) will be able to adequately address this looming crisis.

By 2020 1 out of every 4 taxpayer dollars will be going to pay off interest on the national debt alone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it... Oh yeah, and then sue tobacco companies, your doctor, and your fellow taxpayer when you get cancer.

Sadly, the victims would not receive the full amount awarded to them by the jury but at least they will now have something to accommodate the paraplegia incurred by Mr. Hughes because of the negligence of the neurosurgeon.

I have heard those words said to me before
by a public employee who said he had to cover
his tracks...
planting evidence and covering up evidence just
doesn't happen from the hands of private citizens...
but also from some public employees...
this is good article on what really does exist to cheat

Sounds like the wrong outcome. The plaintiff hurts himself offroading, badly enough that he has to be airlifted to a hospital in another state. But it's the doctor's fault he's paralyzed, because the doctor didn't make it all go away?

It's a shame that he could only get $500,000 from this idiot, but the law was enacted because too many ambulance chasers were screwing insurance companies.

As a fourth year medical student about to graduate and enter the profession, I wanted to comment.

We, physicians, all enter the medical field with the primary reason of wanting to help people. It's as simple as that. But we are not perfect. We are human, fallible, prone to mistakes. And when we realize that a mistake has been made, we feel terrible about it, deep down into our core, because our mission is to save lives, not destroy them.

However, I do agree that what Dr. Pham provided was not standard of care. As the physician on call, he should have arrived promptly. There is fault there. But Trent Hughes took a chance by going off-roading, which runs its own risks, including head and spinal injury that can lead to paralysis. While I empathize with the Hughes' family in their suffering, Mr. Hughes took a chance with his life that day and putting sole blame on the physician is not the answer.

Physicians dedicate their lives to their patients. Sacrifices are made during training and well into practice--sacrifices that no other profession requires. So how is it fair for a physician to lose his livelihood when a mistake is made?

A specialist medical negligence solicitors we can help you to find out what has happened, who is responsible, and whether you have a valid claim for compensation or not.

These things should not be happened with patients. It is really very sad.Its good that finally they got such amount from the doctor.

Wow, that's a lot of money. But despite that, no amount can compensate for what happened to Hughes because of Pham's negligence. I was feeling happy for the couple when I read about the cap in the money that can be awarded in malpractice cases. Rosenblatt's right; the rules should be amended. Half a million dollars don't seem to be enough to cover the inconvenience that Hughes had to undergo.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: