A Chester County jury awarded $20 million to the family of a woman who died after she was allegedly discharged prematurely from a spinal surgery center.
The jury deliberating in Kimble v. Laser Spine Institute handed down the verdict Wednesday afternoon following eight days of trial. Along with awarding $10 million each to the estate of Sharon Kimble and her husband Robert Kimble, the jury also awarded liability against both the Laser Spine Institute and Dr. Glenn Rubenstein, the anesthesiologist who treated Kimble.
The case stemmed from allegations the spinal institute discharged Sharon Kimble while she still had a significant amount of the anesthetic Dilaudid in her system. The plaintiff contended the facility should have continued to monitor Kimble, who was found dead hours after clinicians discharged her with instructions to take additional pain medication.
Attorney Lane Jubb of The Beasley Firm said he told the jury that medical staff allegedly prematurely discharged Kimble to free up space at the surgery center so doctors could begin a procedure for another patient.
“The jury appreciated the lack of specialized patient care and saw the treatment for what it was, which was a production line,” Jubb said, adding that the jury appeared to be “offended” by the defense’s argument that the husband was partially at fault. “Blaming the husband for failing to pay close attention to his wife in the hotel, and suggesting that she would be alive was offensive to logic, since it was their position that she could have been discharged in that state anyway.”
According to the plaintiff’s pretrial memo, Kimble was 50 in January 2014 when she underwent the procedure. She had chronic back pain, and had been taking narcotic pain medication for seven years before the procedure.
The Kimbles, court papers said, were from Ohio, and so they stayed at a hotel close to the surgery center. Court papers said the spinal center instructed Kimble to take her pain medication up to and including the day of the surgery.
The Kimbles’ pretrial memo said that, although she had received six times the amount of Dilaudid than was initially ordered, she was discharged from the surgery center two hours after the procedure. Kimble was found dead in the hotel a few hours later.
According to court records, the defendants contended that the treatment had been proper, and that the high dosage of Dilaudid was necessary because Kimble had a high tolerance for pain medication, given how long she had been taking medication to treat her back pain.
Anesthesiology expert Dr. James Noone testified for the defense that Kimble’s husband failed to properly monitor Kimble following the surgery, and that Robert Kimble likely could have prevented her death if he had called emergency services.
Chester County Court of Common Pleas Judge William Mahon tried the case. The jury reached a decision after less than 90 minutes of deliberation, according to Jubb. It found the surgical center 65 percent liable and Rubenstein 35 percent liable.
Lansdale attorney Kevin Wright represented the defendants. Wright’s office declined to comment.
General counsel for the Laser Spine Institute, Bethany Wharrie, did not return a call for comment.