Carrie DeJongh was a 40-year old married mother of four children who lived in Orange City, Iowa. In 2015, she visited Sioux Center Community Health Center, which provides medical care and services to residents of northwest Iowa, for a standard computerized tomography scan (CT scan). Roy Slice, the doctor that handled the scan, used a contrast dye that DeJongh had an allergic reaction to. She suddenly went into anaphylactic shock and he gave her Benadryl, an antihistamine, instead of epinephrine, which her family believes would have saved her life. A jury recently found that Dr. Slice had demonstrated negligence in caring for her and awarded $29.5 million in damages to her family.
When the allergic reaction began DeJongh allegedly began screaming for help and needed to be restrained. Less than 30 minutes later her heart suddenly stopped beating and epinephrine was then administered, yet she was unable to be revived. Her attorney says that epinephrine is a very common immediate treatment in these situations and doesn’t understand how the medical staff failed to take the appropriate action.
Anaphylaxis is a potentially dangerous reaction that requires immediate treatment. It is common practice to administer a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline), which is typically able to quickly control the symptoms. Epinephrine is widely available in a pre-filled syringe unit referred to as a “pen”. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl that DeJongh was treated with in this case, are not a recommended treatment.
Those in anaphylactic shock usually exhibit signs such as wheezing, very low blood pressure, and hives. The pre-filled injections of epinephrine are marketed under the brand name of EpiPen. The medicine is typically injected into a thigh muscle and begins to narrow blood vessels and improve breathing function. In 2013, the Obama Administration passed legislation designed to increase access to EpiPens. The laws allowed for schools to maintain a stock of the remedy and to administer the injection in emergency situations without waiting for a prescription. Grants were established to subsidize the costs of the product for schools.
Attempt at a Settlement
Counsel for the plaintiffs entered into settlement discussions with the defendant’s insurer MMIC Insurance Inc., yet were unable to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Records show that the insurer had made an offer of $1.35 million. A plaintiff attorney explained that the insurance company offer was insufficient and felt the jury award was proper.
The jury found that Dr. Slice had exhibited negligence that led to DeJongh’s death. The award allocated $1.5 million for pain & suffering prior to her death and the balance for losses of parental and spousal consortium. A plaintiff attorney said he felt that the verdict could comfortably survive a potential appeal. According to the Iowa Board of Medicine’s data, the defendant had no prior disciplinary problems. State law does place limitations (caps) on the amount of awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering; however, those caps do not apply in cases where death occurred. The family expressed hope that the finding of the jury will help to “make sure that providers in the future do not let something like this happen again”.
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