Hospital fighting $10 million jury award

By John O'Brien | Sep 11, 2006

Ruby Memorial Hospital

MORGANTOWN - According to her attorney, Allison Riggs went through a great deal of trouble to earn last week's $10 million jury award.

West Virginia University Hospitals, meanwhile, is prepared to go through even more to see that she doesn't receive it.

Riggs was 14 when she visited Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown to repair the ACL in her knee, and 11 years later was awarded more than $10 million thanks to her lawsuit that said she contracted an infection as a result of the hospital's shoddy work.

Bill Case, spokesman for WVU Hospitals which operates Ruby Memorial, says the hospital plans to file post-trial motions with Judge Robert Stone that ask him to set aside the jury's verdict and award.

"We're very disappointed by this verdict," Case said. "We believe that neither the verdict nor the award are supported by the medical evidence that was provided in court, nor by the law."

Case adds that the state's cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases is $1 million, and that the hospital will file post-trial motions as soon as possible.

Huntington attorney Paul Farrell Jr. was not surprised to hear the news.

"They've denied blame from the beginning," said Farrell, who works at Greene, Ketchum, Bailey & Tweel.

Case declined to comment further on the specifics of the hospital's legal standpoint, but Farrell had plenty to say.

"I think it's interesting that the hospital corporation is making comments on the evidence when it did not send a corporate representative to the trial," Farrell said. "They had a retired nurse practitioner sitting at their table, and that was it.

"Now I'm reading comments in the newspaper from people who weren't even at the trial. The evidence is overwhelming that Allison suffered a hospital-acquired infection at Ruby."

Riggs also received nearly $85,000 in actual damages. The jury apparently empathized with the woman's story.

After her initial surgery, Riggs required seven more as the infection spread. As her high school's valedictorian, she delivered her speech with an enormous mass on the side of her leg, Farrell said.

She then enrolled at the University of Florida, but Farrell said she was forced to drop out when the infection flared up again. In fact, he said she was in such bad condition that she was not allowed to travel back home for another operation initially. Instead, she was forced to wait in a hotel room for 10 days with an IV in her arm to get her strength up.

Hardware installed in her knee floated to her thigh, and she lived with the infection outbreaks for almost five years, Farrell said. He added that WVU Hospitals claimed she contracted the infection at another hospital.

"She's a very strong, very resilient girl who's lucky she didn't lose her leg," Farrell said.

"Every treating surgeon who ever laid a hand on Allison Riggs disagreed with the hospital's argument. Obviously, the jury's responding to something."

It's hard to tell if the jury's award will hold up, though. Farrell said the medical malpractice non-economic damages cap has survived two challenges already.

"That's going to be an issue that the judge will have to resolve," he said. "Whether or not the caps apply to this specific case is going to be an issue that will be contested in circuit court.

"I think there's a lot of issues to be worked out in post-trial motions. There's still a lot of work to be done on this case."

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