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Defective wheelchair caused permanent injuries: plaintiff

Amount:

$7,645,083

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

San Diego County

Court:

Superior Court of San Diego County, San Diego

Injury Type(s):

leg; leg-fracture (fracture, tibia), leg (fracture, tibia); leg-fracture (fracture, fibula), leg (fracture, fibula); other-swelling; other-physical therapy

Case Type:

Products Liability - Design Defect, Medical Devices, Sudden Acceleration, Manufacturing Defect

Case Name:

John P. Hauschildt, M.D. and Nancy Hauschildt v. Clinton River Medical Products, LLC and Academy Medical Equipment Inc., No. 37-2015-00002625-CU-PL-CTL

Date:

October 28, 2016

Plaintiff(s):

Nancy Hauschildt, 

John P. Hauschildt (Male, 50 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Robert J. Francavilla; Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield, LLP; San Diego, CA, for John P. Hauschildt ■ Jason Evans; Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield, LLP; San Diego, CA, for John P. Hauschildt

Plaintiff Expert(s):

M. Close; C.P.A.; Economics; Solana Beach, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans ■ Amy Magnusson; M.D.; Physical Medicine; San Diego, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans ■ Mark Remas; M.A., C.R.C., A.B.V.E.; Vocational Rehabilitation; San Diego, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans ■ Doreen Casuto; R.N., M.R.A.; Life Care Planning; San Diego, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans ■ Richard Greenfield; M.D.; Orthopedics; San Diego, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans ■ Stephen Dorros; M.D.; Radiology; San Diego, CA called by: Robert J. Francavilla, Jason Evans

Defendant(s):

Academy Medical Equipment Inc., 

Clinton River Medical Products, LLC

Defense Attorney(s):

None reported; for Academy Medical Equipment Inc. ■ Mark Weinstein; Veatch Carlson, LLP; Los Angeles, CA, for Clinton River Medical Products, LLC ■ George Knopfler; Hamrick & Evans LLP; Burbank, CA, for Clinton River Medical Products, LLC

Defendant Expert(s):

Tye Ouzounian; Orthopedics; Los Angeles, CA called by: Mark Weinstein, George Knopfler ■ Ronald Fisk; Neurology; Los Angeles, CA called by: Mark Weinstein, George Knopfler ■ Stephen Rothman; Neuroradiology; Torrance, CA called by: Mark Weinstein, George Knopfler

Facts:

On July 21, 2014, plaintiff Dr. John Hauschildt, 50, a diagnostic radiologist and an incomplete quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, arrived at work in his specially-equipped minivan, which he parked in a handicapped stall. While descending the wheelchair ramp from his van, Hauschildt's Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair failed and suddenly shut off, causing it to roll down the ramp at full speed. As a result, he collided, left-shin first, into the running board (step) of a sport utility vehicle that was parked next to him and sustained fractures of his left tibia and fibula. Hauschildt sued the manufacturer of the Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair, Clinton River Medical Products, LLC, and an assembler/distributor of the wheelchair, Academy Medical Equipment Inc. Hauschildt alleged that the defendants failed to properly design and manufacture the product, creating a dangerous condition. Academy Medical Equipment was uninsured and ultimately settled pre-trial for a small sum. Thus, the matter continued to trial against Clinton River Medical Products only. Hauschildt claimed that when his Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair failed and suddenly shut off, it resulted in the wheelchair careening at full speed down the ramp. Plaintiff's counsel argued that the subject power-assisted wheelchair was defective, as it failed to perform as it was intended. Counsel contended that, according to the manufacturer, the wheelchair was "engineered to make the daily commute, the uphill ramp or the downhill slope, feel like a stroll through the park." Thus, counsel contended that the wheelchair was supposed to reduce the amount of user-effort required for propulsion by providing a boost of power that corresponds to the user's hand input and by slowing the chair's descent against gravity on downhill slopes/ramps. However, plaintiff's counsel argued that Clinton River designed the power switch for the Tailwind as a change from the prior model, the 'iGlide power assist,' and that Clinton River was aware of a problem with the switch harness on the wheelchair prior to the incident. Counsel also argued that the wheelchair had a defective design that caused it to shut down unexpectedly. Counsel further argued that the switch harness was defective and that the connection between the battery and the chair was, from an engineering standpoint, inappropriately unstable and unsafe. In addition, Hauschildt's counsel noted that when the subject wheelchair was tested after the incident, it failed abruptly and unexpectedly shut off more than five times while it was being used. Counsel retained video of each of the chair's failures during the post-incident testing. Defense counsel for Clinton River asserted that Hauschildt should have been able to control the wheelchair to avoid injury after it suddenly shut off and that Hauschildt or his family did not load the chair's battery properly on the morning of the incident. However, approximately one month before trial, Clinton River stipulated to liability, conceding that the wheelchair was defective. Thus, the trial addressed the issue of Hauschildt's alleged injuries and damages.

Injury:

Hauschildt struck his left shin and sustained fractures of his left tibia and fibula. He was subsequently pushed in his wheelchair to a nearby emergency room, where his left leg was placed in a Cam boot, which he was required to wear for six months. He then underwent conservative treatment that included physical therapy and rehabilitation. Hauschildt missed five weeks of work while his left leg healed. However, he claimed that his left leg is now about an inch shorter than the right leg due to bones collapsing into themselves, causing his leg to be crooked. He alleged that as a result, he experiences chronic leg pain every day. Hauschildt claimed that he decided to be a doctor before he was 10 years old, but that he suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury in 1983, which rendered him a quadriplegic. He claimed that shortly after the spinal cord injury, doctors informed him that he would never walk again and that he would spend the rest of his life in a rehabilitation facility. He also claimed that doctors informed him that he would only be able to use a motorized wheelchair and that he could expect to live no more than eight to 10 years. However, Hauschildt claimed that he persevered and never spent a night in a rehabilitation facility, and never used a fully motorized wheelchair. He also claimed that he ultimately went on to finish first in his pre-med class at University of California, Davis, and then finish first in his medical school class at UC Davis. Hauschildt then married and, later, had a child. He claimed he led a full-quality life of enjoyment and fulfillment until the subject accident. Hauschildt maintained that before the accident, he would play with his children and help his wife cook dinner after his workday, but that now, upon returning home, he must go straight to bed to elevate his leg to relieve excruciating pain and prepare for the next day. He claimed he loved to have his miracle daughter (born approximately 20 years after doctors told him he was unable to have children) sit on his lap, but that that his leg injury now prevents him from allowing his daughter to do so. Hauschildt also claimed that the constant pain and need to elevate his leg above his heart to manage pain and swelling has caused him to become isolated from his family and friends. In addition, he claimed that he used to enjoy parasailing, snorkeling, snowmobiling, and more, all without mobility in his legs, before the subject incident, but that he can no longer preform any of those activities. The plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon opined that the bones collapsed and healed with angulation (crooked). Hauschildt's expert witnesses also opined that the bones lacked good quality healing superimposed on previously poor quality bone. They further opined that, as a result, Hauschildt experiences chronic, unrelenting pain to his lower leg, which has substantially impacted his quality and enjoyment of life. The plaintiff's treating physiatrist opined that although Hauschildt was able to continue fulfilling his full-time duties as a diagnostic radiologist within one to two years, Hauschildt is unlikely to be able to continue the full-time position that pays approximately $450,000 per year. She opined that due to chronic pain and an inability to take pain medication while practicing pediatric radiology, Hauschildt would have to transition to part-time employment in order to be afforded greater rest/recovery time between shifts to enable him to get through a day's work more comfortably. The defense's medical experts agreed that the bones in Hauschildt's left leg collapsed and healed with angulation and that Hauschildt did not require surgery. However, they opined that Hauschildt had overstated his current residual symptoms of pain. Defense counsel noted that Hauschildt had returned to work in 2014 and had not missed work in 2015 or 2016 due to the injury. Thus, counsel argued that Hauschildt could continue to work with no restrictions, as he had before the accident. Defense counsel also argued that Hauschildt did not seek aggressive treatment consistent with someone who was in chronic pain and that there is a heavy and larger motorized chair that would allow Hauschildt to read X-ray and MRI films with his legs elevated.

Result:

The jury determined that Hauschildt's damages totaled $7,645,083.

John P. Hauschildt: $200,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $74,083 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $3,171,000 Personal Injury: Future Lost Earnings Capability; $700,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $3,500,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Trial Information:

Judge:

Frederic L. Link

Demand:

$2,250,000 (C.C.P. § 998); $1,950,000 (before trial)

Offer:

$1,500,000 (before trial)

Trial Length:

9  days

Trial Deliberations:

1  days

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.