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Plaintiff claimed doctor ignored symptoms, delayed diagnosis

Amount:

$28,911,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Missouri

Venue:

Greene County

Court:

Greene County Circuit Court, 31st

Injury Type(s):

brain-brain damage; brain-traumatic brain injury; other-tremors; other-dystonia; other-dysphagia; other-dysarthria; other-spasticity; other-physical therapy; other-fine motor skills, impairment; sensory/speech-speech/language, impairment of; mental/psychological; paralysis/quadriplegia-paralysis; paralysis/quadriplegia-tetraplegia; paralysis/quadriplegia-quadriplegia

Case Type:

Medical Malpractice - Misdiagnosis, Failure to Test, Failure to Treat, Delayed Diagnosis, Delayed Treatment, Failure to Consult

Case Name:

Emilee Williams v. Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities f/k/a St. John's Clinic, Inc. and Elene Pilapil, M.D., No. 1531-CC00861-01

Date:

March 3, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Emilee Williams (Female, 21 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Steven B. Garner; Strong-Garner-Bauer P.C.; Springfield, MO, for Emilee Williams ■ Grant Rahmeyer; Strong-Garner-Bauer P.C.; Springfield, MO, for Emilee Williams

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Donald Frey; M.D.; Family Medicine; Omaha, NE called by: Steven B. Garner, Grant Rahmeyer ■ Wilbur Swearingen; Vocational Assessment; Springfield, MO called by: Steven B. Garner, Grant Rahmeyer ■ Kenneth Fischer; M.D.; Neurology; Miami, FL called by: Steven B. Garner, Grant Rahmeyer ■ Michael Whetstone; Ph.D.; Neuropsychology; Springfield, MO called by: Steven B. Garner, Grant Rahmeyer ■ Norbert Belz; M.D.; Life Care Planning; Springfield, MO called by: Steven B. Garner, Grant Rahmeyer

Defendant(s):

Elene Pilapil, 

Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities

Defense Attorney(s):

Randy R. Cowherd; Haden, Cowherd & Bullock, LLC; Springfield, MO, for Elene Pilapil, Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities ■ Kregg Thomas Keltner; Haden, Cowherd & Bullock, LLC; Springfield, MO, for Elene Pilapil, Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities

Defendant Expert(s):

Steven Frucht; Neurology; New York, NY called by: Randy R. Cowherd, Kregg Thomas Keltner ■ Michael Lefevre; Family Medicine; Columbia, MO called by: Randy R. Cowherd, Kregg Thomas Keltner

Facts:

On Dec. 17, 2012, plaintiff Emilee Williams, 21, a graduate student, presented to Dr. Elene Pilapil at Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities, with complaints of tremors, loss of balance, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, crying spells and panic attacks. Pilapil diagnosed Williams with fatigue and depression with anxiety. He prescribed medication for anxiety and depression. On May 13, 2013, Williams returned to Pilapil with continuing complaints of resting tremors, difficulty with handwriting and general weakness. Pilapil again determined that anxiety with depression was the cause of her symptoms and adjusted her medication. Williams returned on June 28 and reported she was having mental struggles such as spells where she appeared inebriated and had a loss of balance, as well as the fatigue and hand tremors. Pilapil ordered an MRI in August, which showed severe damage to the basil ganglia as a result of Wilson's disease, a rare inherited disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in your liver, brain and other vital organs. A urine test on Aug. 12 showed low ceruloplasmin as a result of Williams's excessive copper accumulation within her body. She sustained severe brain damage and impairments to her motor functions. Williams sued Pilapil and employer Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities, alleging that the doctor failed to timely test her; failed to consider neurological diseases on a differential diagnosis; failed to timely order a neurological consult and instead diagnosed anxiety without ordering testing to rule out the severe pathological cause of the patient's condition. Plaintiff's counsel discontinued the claim against Pilapil prior to trial. Williams claimed that from December 2012 to May 2013, she and her mother repeatedly expressed concerns to Pilapil regarding the symptoms. She claimed that she and her mother insisted that Williams undergo an MRI and neurological work-up, but Pilapil refused a number of times. The plaintiff's expert in internal medicine testified that based upon continuing symptoms, Pilapil should have referred the plaintiff to a neurologist sooner and ordered an MRI sooner. The plaintiff's expert neurologist testified that Wilson's disease is treatable, but must be treated at the most immediate time possible in order to achieve a better outcome and avoid catastrophic decline. The defense argued that Pilapil was not negligent in her treatment of the plaintiff because she diagnosed anxiety with depression and continued to treat such symptoms. The defense further contended that the catastrophic decline of the plaintiff's condition was a result of treatment using the drug Trientine, not due to her Wilson's disease. The defense's family medicine expert testified that Pilapil was appropriately treating the plaintiff for anxiety and depression, and while tests should have been ordered sooner than they were, Pilapil did not deviate from the standard of care.

Injury:

Williams was diagnosed with Wilson's disease in August 2013, and was admitted to Mercy Clinic where she remained for approximately three months with occasional need for stays in the intensive care unit. She sustained severe brain damage and impairments to her motor functions. As a result of her disease, Williams suffered temporary quadriplegia, rendering her totally disabled and requiring 24-hour care. To treat the disease, Williams underwent daily treatments of Trientine and zinc acetate. Williams was able to regain some motor function over the course of the year 2016, including her ability to walk and ability to talk. Due to her brain injury, Williams still suffers from dysarthria, dystonia, dysphagia, speech impairment, tremors and spasticity of her extremities. She previously used a PEG feeding tube but no longer does. Along with her motor skills, Williams mental processing and ability to care for herself are significantly impaired. She continues to treat daily with administration of zinc acetate, and with occupational and physical therapy. She also treats with a personal rehabilitation specialist two-to-three times per week. Williams sought recovery of past and future economic and non-economic damages, as well as her past and future medical expenses. Defense counsel argued that the drug Trientine was the actual cause of the plaintiff's catastrophic decline, not the Wilson's disease. Counsel also argued that the plaintiff's future medical care can for the most part be provided by her family. The defense expert neurologist testified that even if Pilapil had begun treating Wilson's disease in December 2012, the outcome would have most likely been the same. He also testified that the doctors administering Trientine should have ended her treatment sooner to avoid unspecified adverse effects of the medicine.

Result:

The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff. The jury awarded $28,911,000.

Emilee Williams:

$21,000,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $3,200,000 Personal Injury: future non-economic damages; $511,000 Personal Injury: past economic damages including past medical damages; $1,000,000 Personal Injury: past non-economic damages; $3,200,000 Personal Injury: future economic damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Mark A. Powell

Trial Length:

9  days

Trial Deliberations:

1.5  hours

Jury Vote:

11-1

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information cleaned from court documents, and information provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel. Additional information was gleaned from an article in the Springfield News-Leader.