$2 Million Medical Malpractice Verdict Upheld In Appeals Court

A Utah appeals court recently affirmed a medical malpractice award in favor of the heirs of a man who died after developing an infection while under the care of a rehabilitation facility.

The case, Sprague v. Avalon Care Center, began when the deceased, Morley Sprague, was admitted to Avalon Care Center in Bountiful, Utah. Mr. Sprague suffered from multiple sclerosis and partial paralysis, which left him confined to a bed or wheelchair. Due to his impairments, Mr. Sprague was also at serious risk of developing ulcers.

Mr. Sprague spent approximately one month at Avalon. During this time, he developed an ulcer, which deteriorated to the “point where bone was exposed,” according to court records. Mr. Sprague’s family decided to remove him from Avalon, but the damage had already been done. Over the next two years, efforts to treat the injuries related to the ulcer proved unsuccessful, and Mr. Sprague ultimately died.

His estate and heirs then filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against Avalon in Utah state court.

After a six-day trial, a Salt Lake City jury ruled in favor of the estate and ordered Avalon to pay $2 million in damages. On appeal, Avalon argued the trial judge improperly denied their motion for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiffs’ case and allowed the jury to hear from unqualified experts.

But the Utah Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and upheld the jury’s decision. Judge David N. Mortensen, writing for the Court of Appeals, said the plaintiffs presented sufficient expert testimony to prove Avalon breached the appropriate “standard of care” with respect to Mr. Sprague.

Avalon suggested the plaintiff’s key expert witness never directly stated his opinions regarding Avalon’s breach of the standard of care to a “reasonable degree of medical probability,” which is the legal test used by Utah and most other states with respect to medical malpractice. However, Judge Mortensen said Utah law “does not require that an expert witness expressly invoke that phrase separately and repeatedly in conjunction with each stated opinion.” Rather, the jury was allowed to look at the expert testimony “as a whole” and consider its substance.

Judge Mortensen also rejected Avalon’s challenges to numerous other experts who testified at trial. For instance, Avalon said the judge allowed its key expert–a doctor–to testify about alleged negligence on the part of its nurses. Typically, an expert witness is only allowed to speak as to their own specialty or profession. But Judge Mortensen noted the trial court expressly told the jury it could only consider that witness’ testimony “as it pertained to his knowledge as a physician, not as a nurse.”

Contact the Cleveland Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Tittle & Perlmuter Today

Rehabilitation centers are supposed to be places where patients go to get better, not worse. There is certainly no excuse for a patient to develop a deadly and preventable infection while under the care of competent medical professional. If you, or a member of your family, have suffered due to negligent health care of any kind, call Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 438-9647 today to speak with a qualified Cleveland medical malpractice attorney.


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