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Doctor In Erin Brockovich Case Blamed For A Patient Injury

A woman who was injured in an elevator accident filed a lawsuit against the elevator company for her injuries, liver failure, and liver transplant. However, when the case went to the jury, the jurors found the woman’s doctor was to blame for her injuries, not the elevator company. The doctor who treated the woman was the self-described toxicology expert from the Erin Brockovich case. 

Bizarre Elevator Accident

Katerina Chakalis lived in an apartment in West Hollywood, California. On July 1, 2005, she was taking the elevator 6 floors up to her apartment. At the top, the elevator began to shake and go up and down before suddenly dropping 6 floors, and bouncing a couple of times on the ground floor. The elevator ceiling fell on top of her and she became soaked in hydraulic oil. 

When Chakalis was evaluated, the doctors found a laceration on her head and tenderness in the back, but no other injuries. When Chakalis returned to have her stitches removed, she complained of a headache, shoulder and back pain, and hydraulic oil poisoning. The doctor also claimed that being poisoned by the oil was impossible because none of the ER staff made any note of smelling or seeing abnormal fluid when she was admitted.  

Doctor’s Unconventional Treatment 

According to Dr. James Dahlgren’s website, he has been treating patients with toxic chemical exposures since 1971. Dr. Dahlgren was a medical consultant working in the well-known Erin Brockovich case. The case, which was later developed into the movie starring Julia Roberts, involved a lawsuit brought against a large energy company for groundwater contamination.  

Dr. Dahlgren evaluated Chakalis and diagnosed her with hydraulic oil poisoning. According to Dahlgren, the patient’s lab tests showed elevated arsenic and mercury. Dahlgren placed Chakalis on a detox plan, which included taking a sauna 10-12 times a day to sweat out the toxins, taking vitamin supplements, glutathione, and chelation therapy. Dahlgren also prescribed Vicodin a number of times for pain.

Other doctors also prescribed Vicodin for pain management. Another doctor increased the patient’s dosage to 8-10 Vicodin a day. In 2006, Chakalis was taken to the hospital for acute liver failure. She received a liver transplant. A biopsy of her liver indicated that the liver failure was caused by acetaminophen poisoning. Vicodin contains 500 milligrams of acetaminophen. When Chakalis was admitted to the hospital, her body had about 35,000 milligrams of acetaminophen. 

Injury Victim’s Lawsuit Against the Elevator Company

Chakalis filed a lawsuit against the elevator company for damages, including liver failure and the liver transplant surgery. During the trial, other doctors were critical of Dr. Dahlgren’s diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Dahlgren was not named as a defendant in the case but the jury found Dr. Dahlgren was 52% at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries.  

The jury ordered Dahlgren to pay over half of the $794,000 verdict. However, the California Court of Appeals reversed the decision based on the lack of jury instructions regarding medical malpractice. If the injury victim had filed the case as a medical malpractice case against Dr. Dahlgren, the outcome may have been different. 

Is the Doctor Responsible for Your Injuries?

If you or a loved one suffered an injury caused by questionable medications or treatment at the hands of a doctor, talk to experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian. Contact our law office online or by calling (800) 529-6162.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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