A Deerfield Beach attorney got a $2.4 million settlement for a woman suffering a post-accident therapeutic-related injury, despite the fact that medical providers did not make a mistake.
Andrew Rader of Cutler Rader represented a woman who had a rare adverse reaction to therapy after suffering a back injury in an auto accident.
Rader’s client and the defendant parties—her employer’s insurers—could not be named due to a confidentiality agreement. The parties advised the Broward County circuit court of the settlement and a final order dismissing the case is pending, Rader said.
Rader’s client was a region-level manager in a large hair salon chain, he said. In December 2007, at age 44, she was involved in an auto accident that exacerbated a pre-existing back condition; she had lower back herniated discs. She was driving a company vehicle and the other driver caused the accident, Rader said.
After participating in physical therapy, the woman underwent epidural steroid injections. Several months later, she was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency—a permanent condition involving a hormone decline that leads to weight gain, varying blood pressure, extreme fatigue, immune compromise and osteoporosis, Rader said.
“Although not initially diagnosed by the plaintiff’s doctors, my research showed that the adrenal insufficiency most likely resulted from the steroid injections. Unfortunately the plaintiff suffered a rare and idiosyncractic reaction to a standard and common treatment,” he said.
There was no cause of action available for a medical malpractice lawsuit and no medical provider was sued. Getting substantial money damages for an adrenal insufficiency complication is unusual, Rader said.
Rader relied on Stuart v. Hertz Corp., a 1977 Florida Supreme Court ruling about indemnity, to prevail against his client’s employer.
“The gist of it is, if you harm somebody, you are on the hook for all consequential damages. Suppose I get in a car accident and I go to the hospital with a broken left arm. In the hospital, they cut off my right arm—clear medical malpractice. The original driver is still liable, because I wouldn’t have been in the hospital if it hadn’t been for the accident,” Rader said.
In Stuart, Hertz Corp. tried to file a third-party medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Frank Stuart for injuries he allegedly caused to a woman during surgery. She was in surgery because she was injured when a Hertz-owned rental car hit her car.
The Supreme Court ruled Hertz could not sue the doctor because it would incorrectly expand traditional concepts of indemnity and expand applicability of the third-party rule.
“The rule is well-established that a wrongdoer is liable for the ultimate result, although the mistake or even negligence of the physician who treated the injury may have increased the damage which would otherwise have followed from the original wrong,” the court said.
Unlike Stuart, a standard of care was not breached, Rader said. But the insurers of his client’s employer remained on the hook because the driver who was liable was under-insured.
“It was just bad luck. This settlement stands for the proposition that a defendant is responsible for all harms caused, whether foreseeable or not,” Rader said.
The last settlement was with the excess carrier underwriter, who was responsible for damages above $1 million. The excess carrier settled for $2.375 million.
It was the third settlement reached with insurers. In February, the carrier of the uninsured motorist policy settled for $500,000, which was half of that insurer’s $1 million cap, Rader said.
Also, in 2013, the insurer of the under-insured driver at fault paid the maximum on a bodily injury policy—$100,000, Rader added.
Gregory Barnhart, a medical malpractice attorney at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach not associated with the lawsuit, said medical complications occur more frequently than medical malpractice cases.
For example, 16 percent of adult patients in Veteran’s Administration hospitals will have one or more complications after surgery for appendectomies, one of the simplest surgical procedures, according to Annals of Surgery.
“Cause is defined to include required medical care. And if the medical care has problems, then the original wrongdoer is still responsible. That’s a public policy issue decided by courts around the country, including Florida,” Barnhart said.