gavel on top of money

An Army veteran who suffered brain damage and the amputation of his leg after a routine procedure at a VA Medical Center in St. Louis was awarded $8.3 million in federal court, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported recently.

This case is a glaring example of the harm caused by delays in treatment at VA hospitals and the latest medical malpractice lawsuit in a string of claims against John Cochran VA Medical Center, the newspaper reported. The hospital has experienced staffing and sterilization issues for years.

A veteran from St. Louis, who also was a long-time postal worker, underwent the insertion of a cardiac stent at Cochran VA Medical Center in February 2009. Soon afterward, he developed swelling and bleeding at the surgical site in his upper thigh. A week later, he returned to Cochran for a second surgery to mend a damaged artery near the wound, which had also become infected.

According to the veteran’s attorneys, the corrective surgery was unnecessarily postponed several days. Furthermore, the surgeons used infected tissue to repair the damaged artery. The veteran suffered considerable blood loss, which his attorneys said led to severe brain damage. His leg was amputated after the wound infection turned gangrenous.

Because of the physical trauma, the victim is now paralyzed and has difficulty communicating.

After a two-day trial, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey ruled that $6.8 million would go to the veteran and $1.5 million would go to his wife, who is the primary caregiver.

According to the Post-Dispatch:

  • A Florida man is suing Cochran, alleging he was treated unnecessarily with radiation and chemotherapy months after a misdiagnosis of lymphoma.
  • An intensive care unit nurse injected a patient with what could have been a lethal dose of the painkiller fentanyl and committed other “egregious acts resulting in the death or near death of patient” in 2010. The VA Office of Inspector General investigated this case and put together a report on its findings.
  • In 2010, more than 1,800 veterans were informed that they might have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis or other kinds of viruses because of insufficient sterilization procedures in the hospital’s dental clinic. As of yet, there have been no illnesses reported due to the possible exposure.
  • In February of 2011, Cochran closed its operating rooms after rust stains were discovered on surgical equipment. After a month of cleaning and replacing defective equipment, the rooms were reopened. Since that time, the center has hired additional nurses and other staff members and opened a $7 million sterilization facility.

Federal Tort Claims Act

Veterans who are harmed by poor medical care may file claims against VA hospitals under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which lays out a procedure for claims against the United States for monetary damages due to the loss of property, personal injury or death. The law allows an injured person to collect damages for the negligent or wrongful action or omission of a government employee who is within the scope of his or her employment.

Essentially, this law recognizes that government workers have the potential to cause serious harm to others under certain circumstances. It gives U.S. residents the power to bring valid lawsuits against government employees just as if these defendants were private citizens.

All tort claims have to be filed within two years of the date of the incident. The process includes administrative steps as well as a lawsuit in federal court. This procedure entails both federal and state law and may become complicated.

The Federal Tort Claims Act can create many obstacles because of complex requirements. For these reasons, it is important to find a personal injury attorney who can guide you throughout the legal process.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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