PARKERSBURG – A Wood County jury ruled a hospital fraudulently concealed information about a woman's death from her husband and awarded her family more than $6.5 million.
The family of Hilda Boggs filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2003 against Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital, Dr. Manish Koyawala and nurse Evelyn Melvin.
The four-man, two-woman jury deliberated for more than seven hours before returning the verdict on March 10. They ruled the hospital kept information about her death from husband Ray Boggs and that the hospital's conduct was outrageous.
The total damages awarded was $6,545,000.
"I think the verdict was appropriate because of the intentional misconduct," said attorney Christopher Regan, who represented the Boggs family. "It's not just a medical malpractice lawsuit. Records were destroyed, they attempted to corrupt witnesses. That is what justifies that verdict.
In September 2001, Hilda Boggs fell and broke her ankle at Mineral Wells Elementary School, where she taught first grade. That evening, she went to the hospital and was scheduled for surgery. After she was given anesthesia, her heart stopped beating and she stopped breathing. She died the next day.
"Considering how bad the conduct was in the case, it really is (satisfying)," Regan said of the verdict. "It was very shocking … when you have documents from the hospital acknowledging they instructed nurses to destroy notes, it doesn't do anything but get you fired up.
"The hospital basically stood up in court and insinuated they (the family) are full of baloney for two weeks."
Regan, an attorney with Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling, said he thinks the verdict was the largest ever awarded in Wood County. He said he was told the previous record verdict was about $2 million.
Jurors awarded Ray Boggs $100,000 for the hospital fraudulently concealing information about his wife's death. He was awarded $375,000 for past and future emotional distress due to conduct that "...was so outrageous that a reasonable person could not have been expected to endure it."
The jury also concluded the hospital was negligent toward Boggs which was a proximate cause of her death. However, they did not find the hospital negligent in credentialing Koyawala or Melvin or that it was a proximate cause of death.
The jury ruled Koyawala and Melvin were negligent toward Boggs and awarded him $650,000 for loss of income and household service and $350,000 for loss of consortium and solace. Son Kenny Boggs was awarded $500,000 for loss of comfort, society and solace, and Hilda Boggs' mother, Maggie Stump, was awarded $50,000 for the same. Her brothers Randy and Gary Stump were awarded $10,000.
The jury awarded punitive damages totaling $4.5 million - $3 million against Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital and $1.5 million against Koyawala and Melvin.
Co-counsel Geoff Brown, also of Bordas & Bordas, said there was documented evidence that the hospital pulled nurses and other medical personnel aside to destroy notes. He also said evidence showed that Boggs' heart monitor strips had times on them at one point, but the versions put in her medical records didn't have those times on them.
Jurors ruled Koyawala, Melvin or United Anesthesia Inc. were not actual agents of the hospital but that they were apparent agents and that the evidence showed the doctor failed to properly disclose the risks associated with spinal anesthesia. They did not find that a reasonable person in Boggs' position would have refused to undergo the spinal anesthesia if she had been properly informed about the risks associated with the procedure
After the verdict, the hospital released a statement.
"We are very sympathetic for the family members of Hilda Boggs for their loss. This is never an easy situation. Given the facts that were presented during this trial we are extremely disappointed and take exception to the decision. We are looking at all options to respond to this verdict, including appeal."