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Within a week of Halloween, juries in New Britain, Waterbury and Bridgeport rendered medical malpractice verdicts of $1.13 million, $2.2 million and $10 million, respectively. But what would appear to be the largest — the $10 million won Nov. 7 by Bridgeport attorney Joshua David Koskoff for the widow and estate of Stamford cement truck driver Gary Carlson — may actually be the smallest of the three, if plaintiffs’ lawyers adhere to their traditional practice of limiting collections to the malpractice policy limits. For Carlson’s doctor, Robert Goldsmith of the defunct Stamford Medical Group, the limit was $1 million. But more aggressive collection strategies may come into play, even as the medical profession, lawyers and insurance companies brace for battle in the legislature over solutions to the med-mal insurance crunch. Defense and plaintiffs’ lawyers agree that, in recent memory, no medical malpractice verdict in excess of policy limits has resulted in the seizure of a Connecticut doctor’s house, savings or other personal assets. But Koskoff, of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, is exploring other options. Much depends on what steps the insurer takes in post-trial strategies. In one scenario, the defendant doctor might wind up with a “bad faith” claim against his med-mal insurer for his excess exposure, if refusal to settle was the company’s idea. Koskoff said Carlson’s doctor “plunked down good money to his insurer to be protected. He could have been, but he wasn’t.” Carlson’s wife, according to Koskoff, offered to settle the case five years earlier for the policy limits. Instead, the malpractice insurance company, Glastonbury-based Connecticut Medical Insurance Corp., invested in the skills of Stamford defense lawyer Kevin Tepas, of Ryan, Ryan, Johnson & Deluca. “It’s kind of ironic,” Koskoff said. “Plaintiffs’ lawyers are accused by doctors and insurance companies of being greedy, but here is a case where the insurance company was so greedy [that it] never offered a red cent, even when the evidence against them was overwhelming.” The insurer, Koskoff added, “spent a lot of legal fees. It was defended as well as it could have been. [Tepas] is a good lawyer. It’s just that you can’t make up your facts. It’s mind boggling that this insurance company — run by doctors, which may be the first mistake — forced both the plaintiffs and the defendant to go through the agony of a trial.” Tepas didn’t return repeated telephone messages last week. CMIC officials did not comment by press time. In Carlson’s case, he awoke with severe chest pain in late 1993. Goldsmith, his doctor, prescribed an antacid, but did not perform an electrocardiogram on a treadmill, the type of stress test that Koskoff claims would have disclosed arterial blockage. Weeks later, when Carlson was recovering from hip replacement surgery, he suffered a heart attack and died at 49. An autopsy revealed 90 percent blockage of one artery, Koskoff said. The jury ruled for the plaintiffs on six of eight issues, concluding that failure to detect Carlson’s coronary condition fell below the standard of care and was a substantial factor in his death. It awarded $4 million in loss of consortium damages to Vita Carlson, who had planned to retire to Florida with her husband when he turned 54. In another plaintiff’s victory, on Oct. 24, Cheshire attorney Stephen Jacques won an award for Lynda Beattie, the widow and executrix of computer technician Allen Beattie. On a bitterly cold winter day in 2000, she got a call from his employer that he was having difficulty moving his arms and legs. She took him home, then to the emergency room. When describing his medical history, the couple said he had had panic attacks years before, but none ever resulted in paralysis symptoms. “The emergency room physician rushed to judgment, in deciding that Allen’s paralysis was probably all in his head,” said Jacques, of Moore, O’Brien, Jacques & Yelenak. That, he said, violated the fundamental rule that physical causes had to be ruled out first. At trial, the plaintiffs contended that an electronic scan could have detected the man was suffering from a severe spinal inflammation, and that injections of steroids could have prevented what happened next. Although the emergency room physician consulted with two other doctors, the symptoms were described as merely psychiatric, and no specialist was called to examine Beattie in person. Instead, he was admitted for supervision. A nurse noted on his chart that she expressed sympathy. “The ‘head case’ label seriously affected his treatment,” Jacques said in an interview. Less than 12 hours after being admitted, the paralysis progressed to the point where his breathing slowed, and he lapsed into a coma. He never came out of it, and died four months later. The jury found $562,500 in economic damages for the 41-year-old man, and $500,000 in pain and suffering damages. His widow was awarded loss of consortium damages of $1 million, with the whole award reduced by a finding that the hospital emergency room team was only 55 percent responsible for the injury. The hospital and two other doctors had settled before trial. A third hospital death case, won Oct. 30 by Robert B. Adelman of Bridgeport’s Adelman, Hirsch & Newman, resulted in a $2.2 million award for the widow and estate of a Waterbury artist, who claimed no economic damages. Garie J. Mulcahey, of Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey in Bridgeport, defended the Beattie case. Another Bai Pollock attorney, David L. Robertson, opposed Adelman. Neither defense lawyer returned telephone messages by press time.

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