A jury in the Hennepin County District Court ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs, the family of a first-time mother that had given birth at Abbott Northwest Hospital in Minneapolis who died less than a week after delivery. Nicole Bermingham was 30-years-old when she gave birth in 2013 and was discharged thereafter to her home. Shortly after, Bermingham returned to the hospital complaining of symptoms of fever and nausea. Her family claimed that Patricia Eid, an emergency room nurse, overlooked lab results that indicated she had sepsis and proceeded to discharge her.
Bermingham died hours later and the family brought a medical malpractice claim that named both the nurse and Emergency Care Consultants as defendants. The plaintiff's attorney explained that the $20 million award was indeed one of the largest medical malpractice awards from a jury in recent state history.
Sepsis is a way the body responds to infection. Sepsis has been particularly challenging for U.S. hospital facilities in recent years. In a 2014 report, it was determined that sepsis played a role is roughly 30% of deaths among adults while in hospital care. According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine, one of the most common reasons for claims of malpractice involved failures to diagnose sepsis.
The Bermingham family claimed that the results Eid saw were “classic indicators of sepsis”, which included a heightened count of white blood cells. After arriving back in the emergency room, she was experiencing high fever, nausea, and pain in several places. Eid thought that Bermingham had a urinary infection and sent her home with antibiotics and Tylenol. After finally noticing the problem with further testing, the hospital conducted a hysterectomy and gave her antibiotics; however, she died just two days later.
Records accessed from the Minnesota State Board of Nursing indicated that Eid had only one formal disciplinary action in the past. The National Practitioner Data Bank shows a larger ($22 million) settlement back in 2000. The top 50 largest damage awards among their data were all a result of party settlements. Of the $20 million award, $14,446,000 was allocated for losses including companionship and comfort; another $4 million of the award was based on losses of future earnings. Minnesota's statute of limitations is four years from the date the incident occurred. Damages in these cases may be awarded for some of the following:
- Economic damages such as medical expenses (past & future)
- Losses of earnings (past & future)
- Noneconomic damages such as pain & suffering (past & future)
- Disability & disfigurement
- Aggravating existing conditions
Minnesota also maintains an initial requirement for filing medical malpractice claims. The statute requires the lawyer for the plaintiff to produce an affidavit that states a medical expert has reviewed the claim and believes that a failure to maintain the standards of care exists. Failure to adhere to this step immediately triggers a dismissal of the claim.