Johnson County plaintiff’s verdict ends losing steak

Johnson County plaintiff’s verdict ends losing steak

Charles Emerick

An eight-month run of defense verdicts in medical-malpractice trials came to an end last week.

And the venue where the metrowide streak ended is one that many plaintiffs’ lawyers argue is the toughest to win in the Kansas City area: Johnson County.

It was just the third plaintiff’s verdict in a medical- malpractice trial since the beginning of 2006, according to the Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service, which records verdicts in Jackson, Platte, Clay, Wyandotte and Johnson counties and the two local federal courts. And it was the first for a plaintiff in three years in Johnson County.

The jury returned an $830,000 verdict for the sons of Carole Kraft, who died three years after doctors failed to inform her of a tumor on her lungs.

Kraft, who was 58 at the time of her death, went to Shawnee Mission Medical Center in March 2001 complaining of numbness and tingling, according to her attorney, Jim Bartimus, of Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny.

An emergency room physician ordered an X-ray of her head and chest, Bartimus said. Dr. Michael Dennis, a radiologist, examined the film and found everything to be normal.

The hospital discharged Kraft and asked that she follow up with her family doctor.

The following morning, Bartimus said, Dennis reviewed the X-ray and found an abnormal spot on Kraft’s lung. He recorded in his report that it was a potential tumor.

The report never reached the emergency room physician or her treating physician.

As a result, Kraft never found out about the cancer, which was at stage 1 at that time.

In February 2004 she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and it had spread throughout her body. During that exam, a study of the X- ray from three years earlier showed that Dennis gad circled the spot that Kraft was never informed of.

She died soon afterward.

“There was no written policy in place at the hospital for handling this situation,” Bartimus said. “It was very loosey- goosey. She was never told that she had a stage 1 cancer tumor. She had an 80 percent chance of recovery. When it was found there was just a 5 percent chance of recovery.”

The lawsuit brought by her sons originally named Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Dennis and the emergency room doctors and their corporation, EM Specialists, as the defendants.

The family reached confidential settlements with everyone but Dennis.

Bartimus said Dennis did not want to pay, and he and his attorney, Greg Forney, of Shaffer Lombardo Shurin, brought the Shawnee Mission Medical Center back into the case as a third-party defendant. Forney could not be reached for comment.

“(Dennis) blamed the hospital,” Bartimus said. “He had experts come in and say it was the hospital’s fault.”

Because of the earlier settlement with the hospital, which the jury did not know about, Bartimus said he had to defend the hospital during the trial.

But the jury, which included four health-care professionals, assessed 92.5 percent of the blame on the hospital, leaving the plaintiffs with a recovery of $62,000. It reached the verdict in 70 minutes.

Bartimus said the jurors were pro-doctor and liked Dennis.

“I went to medical school with him, and he is a good guy,” Bartimus said. “But I just thought he made a mistake here.”

In addition to the verdict, Bartimus said he was successful in getting the hospital to change its policy in notifying patients of a change in diagnosis.

“That was the most important thing,” he said, “and hopefully this will never happen again.”

Though it was the first medical-malpractice jury to find for a plaintiff in Johnson County since June 2003, it was also the first to assess 100 percent of the fault on the defendants since a November 1995 trial, according to information from the Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service.

Three other plaintiffs’ verdicts between July 1999 and June 2003 found the plaintiffs partially at fault.

Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires

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