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CASE TYPE: Medical malpractice CASE: Rawson v. Baptist Hospital Inc., No. 90-6078-CA-01 (Escambia Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.) PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: Fredric G. Levin, Martin H. Levin and Robert M. Loehr of Pensacola, Fla.’s Levin, Middlebrooks, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner, Proctor & Papantonio DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: S. William Fuller of Tallahassee, Fla.’s Fuller, Johnson & Farrell and J. Nixon Daniel III of Pensacola’s Beggs & Lane JURY AWARD: $31.12 million Few cases have had a more checkered past than this medical malpractice action involving a diver. At the first trial, the plaintiff won. This was reversed. At the second trial, the defendant won. That was reversed. At the third trial, the plaintiff won again. After the first trial, the plaintiff’s attorney was brought up on charges of unethical conduct for calling the defendant doctors “idiots.” He was cleared of any unethical conduct. And after the last trial, the verdict was partly settled, partly remitted and part was sent off for another lawsuit against the defendant’s insurance carrier. All the suits arose from an injury to Malcolm Keith Rawson, who was diving in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Fla., on Oct. 2, 1988. Rawson, then 34, surfaced too quickly and suffered the bends, which required immediate use of a decompression chamber to prevent permanent injury, said plaintiff’s attorney Fredric G. Levin. After Rawson surfaced, he was brought to a U.S. Navy Coast Guard dock. Initially, an emergency physician from Pensacola’s Baptist Hospital arranged for him to be brought to the hyperbaric chamber at the nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station, which is only three minutes away from the dock, Levin said. But, instead, this doctor’s superior decided that Rawson should be airlifted by helicopter to the Bay Medical Center decompression chamber in Panama City, Fla., about 100 miles from Pensacola. Rawson was brought to the emergency room at Baptist Hospital and, after a series of delays, arrived at Bay Medical four hours later, Levin said. By the time Rawson was placed in the chamber, “he was blind, his right arm was gone and he had lost all use of his legs,” he added. After treatment, Rawson’s sight and the use of his right arm returned, but “his legs are still paralyzed,” said Levin. Rawson sued Baptist Hospital. “They said he was brought to the Baptist ER because of a fear of near-drowning, a condition where if you get salt water in your lungs, it can kill you,” Levin said. But, he said, Baptist’s own records indicated that he was never given a chest X-ray to confirm or dispute this diagnosis while at the hospital. “They denied ever calling the Navy,” he said. “But we had a record showing they did.” In the first trial, in March 1995, a Panama City, Fla., jury found Baptist Hospital negligent and awarded Rawson $7.88 million. This verdict was reversed on appeal, however, on the ground that Levin’s closing argument was unethical. As already noted, he was cleared of any unethical conduct. In the second trial, in 1997, a Pensacola jury returned a defense verdict for Baptist Hospital. This verdict was reversed, however, and the trial court judge granted a new trial, citing improper testimony by a defense expert. At the third trial, Levin said, “we really stressed the changes in Baptist’s records, the lies.” On June 12, 2000, a Pensacola jury awarded Rawson $31.12 million. In October, Baptist paid the extent of its insurance coverage, $11 million. In November, the court remitted the verdict to $21.12 million. “We’re going to sue the insurance carrier … for the rest still owed,” Levin said. The insurance carrier, St. Paul Cos. of St. Paul, Minn., has appealed.

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