Judge rejects bid to slash jury’s $15M med-mal award

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A jury’s verdict awarding $15 million to a woman and her husband after her cancer was not detected on a CT scan will stand, a federal judge ruled, rejecting defense appeals that included Indiana’s cap on medical malpractice damages.

Southern District of Indiana Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on Wednesday denied practitioner defendants’ motions to reduce or amend the judgment or for a new trial after a jury in June found in favor of Courtney and Brian Webster after a four-day trial. The jury found Center for Diagnostic Imaging, Inc., of Carmel, doing business as CDI Indiana LLC, was responsible for the conduct of a radiologist who failed to identify a tumor after Courtney underwent a CT scan in November 2014.

The Websters sued Minnesota-based CDI in October 2016, claiming the tumor went undiagnosed until May 2016, when Courtney was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer that has a survival rate of about 10 percent over five years. CDI argued to the jury that the radiologist who failed to properly read Webster’s CT scan was in independent contractor not subject to CDI’s control.

“The jury in this matter found that CDI had failed to give meaningful notice to Ms. Webster that it was not the provider of radiology services before the treatment, and that the services were being provided by a physician who was an independent contractor and not subject to the control and supervision of CDI,” Magnus-Stinson wrote. “In addition, despite a complex corporate arrangement which CDI’s own representative admitted was ‘Byzantine,’ … the jury determined that Ms. Webster reasonably believed that…the radiology services were being rendered by CDI or its employee. The Court finds no reason to vacate or alter the jury’s determination in this matter… .”

In the 30-page opinion, the chief judge also explained CDI could not avail itself of the $1.25 million damages cap under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act because it is not a qualified health care provider under the act, noting such cases are increasingly common but avoidable.

“Once again, this Court emphasizes that it will not rewrite Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act to afford protection to individuals or entities who are not qualified health care providers under the Act and who did not pay into the Patient’s Compensation Fund. Therefore, the Court declines to apply the damages caps set forth in the Act to CDI,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

“As for CDI’s general argument that the award is ‘monstrously excessive,’ … this Court cannot and does not find that awards of $14,000,000 and $1,000,000 respectively for the loss of 36.2 years of life expectancy and consortium of a formerly vibrant, competent, and engaged wife, mother, and professional woman is excessive in the least,” Magnus-Stinson said. “As such, the Court rejects CDI’s request” to reduce the damages award.

The case is Courtney and Brian Webster v. CDI Indiana, LLC, 1:16-cv-2677.

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