Barbara Koury brought a medical malpractice claim against Wilkes-Barre General Hospital alleging that a doctor was negligent and caused her to suffer a stroke and subsequent paralysis. Koury is said to now need 24-hour care and ongoing rehabilitation. A judge in Luzerne County recently granted approval for a $3 million settlement.
Koury was admitted to the facility in 2011 for treatment of an abdominal hernia that was supposed to require a one-day stay; however, the doctors elected to keep her an extra day based on her condition. Shortly after, she developed extremely low levels of oxygen in her blood that led to a stroke. The claim asserts that the hospital failed to respond in a timely manner to the condition. The state statutes regarding medical malpractice were established so that individuals who are injured as a result of medical negligence by a clinician receive a timely determination and reasonable compensation.
It took nearly four years to resolve the case after the parties entered mediation. Mediation is sometimes not possible in medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania when the defendant is a physician with a “consent clause” in their insurance policy provisions. This means that the doctor may need to grant consent to allow for a settlement prior to the mediation. Doctors are required to report settlements to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which many would rather avoid, and can be a reason that malpractice actions proceed to trial.
Judge Richard M. Hughes III, of Luzerne County, accepted the settlement agreement. The allocation of funds was $1.2 million for the plaintiff attorneys, $150,000 for a lien from medical expenses, $1.15 million to Koury's daughter (her guardian), and $383,000 to her husband John. State law defines a guardian as being a fiduciary who assumes responsibility for the care and estate of a minor or someone who is incapacitated.
Legal counsel for the hospital produced expert reports from six individuals who supported the settlement. Hospital officials were said to have differences regarding the amount of damages awarded, but hospital representative Renita Fennick did not wish to elaborate. Hospital attorneys said they were ready to defend the case in a trial; however, Koury's attorneys agreed to the settlement offer instead.
Under Pennsylvania law, litigants are able to recover for attorney fees that are deemed as reasonable. The party seeking the attorney fees must present evidence to the court to support that the fees are reasonable. There are no limits or caps on recoverable compensatory damages in PA malpractice cases, as the state's Supreme Court found such limits to be unconstitutional. The law does allow punitive damages when the medical provider is found to have demonstrated “willful or wanton misconduct” or conduct described as recklessly indifferent. These amounts are limited to twice the award for compensatory damages.