Jury Awards Widow $6.7 Million in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff Posted June 14, 2011, at 1:59 p.m. Last modified June 14, 2011, at 7:21 p.m. BANGOR, Maine — A Penobscot County jury Monday afternoon awarded a widow more than $6.7 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit against Eastern Maine Medical Center and Dr. Lawrence Nelson, a Bangor surgeon, according to court documents. The lawsuit was filed in Penobscot County on Aug. 28, 2009, by Paula Braley, 49, of Lee over the death of her husband, Thomas Braley Sr., at EMMC on May 8, 2005 — his 44th birthday and Mother’s Day. Braley Sr. was flown by LifeFlight to the hospital on May 6, 2005 after an ATV accident. The jury found that Eastern Maine Medical Center, its doctors and nurses, and Dr. Nelson were negligent in the death of Braley Sr. after a six-day trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center. The award appears to be one of the largest ever awarded by a Maine jury in a medical malpractice case. “The family of Thomas Braley, Sr., and his many friends are very thankful and relieved with the jury’s verdict,” Portland attorney John Flynn, who represented Paula Braley, said Tuesday in an email. “They extend their heartfelt gratitude to the jurors for their time and commitment to getting this right. Although they will always have a void left by the loss of their husband and father, they appreciate the verdict as an attempt to make them whole from their loss.” Attorney Edward Gould of Bangor represented EMMC in the litigation. He called the verdict disappointing. “We recognize this was a personal tragedy for the Braley family,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “The hospital feels the doctors and the nurses all provided him with excellent care.” Nelson’s attorney, Phillip Coffin III of Portland, said Tuesday in an email that he and his client were “very disappointed in the verdict and a bit surprised by the amount of the award, especially in certain categories of damages.” The jury awarded a total of $6,711,000 in damages in the following amounts, according to the verdict form: 1. $11,000 for funeral and burial expenses 2. $1 million for Braley Sr.’s conscious suffering before his death 3. $1.2 million in loss of economic support 4. $4.5 million for loss of companionship and emotional distress 5. Eight of nine jurors concurred with the verdict, according to the verdict form, which did not require the juror to explain why he or she did not agree with the decision of the majority. “The case was well tried by all parties, and the Braleys are genuinely nice people, who suffered a tragic loss of a husband and father,” Coffin said in the email. “We truly believe that the medical evidence proved that Mr. Braley died of an unexpected and unpredictable rupture of an intercostal artery and that no test, lab or evaluation could have predicted or prevented what happened.” The attorney said the jury ignored a unanimous finding of a prelitigation screening panel, required under Maine law in all medical malpractice cases, that actions alleged by Braley Sr.’s family did not cause his death. The Lee man, who worked as glazier, was injured May 6, 2005 in an all-terrain vehicle rollover accident at Dobsy Lake in Lakeville, according to Flynn and court documents. He suffered several broken ribs, among other injuries, and there was indication of internal bleeding from CT scans ordered by the emergency department physician. The doctors caring for Braley Sr. failed to follow up on the indications of internal bleeding including not issuing an order for follow-up X-rays to monitor the internal bleeding, according to the complaint. Over the 36 hours following his admission to EMMC, the extent of the internal bleeding caused one of Braley Sr.’s lungs to collapse. The lack of oxygen precipitated a massive heart attack, from which he died, according to the attorney. “[His] death may have been avoided with the placement of a chest tube for drainage of accumulating fluid,” Flynn said. “Mr. Braley’s death occurred on his 44th birthday, which was also Mother’s Day, and was witnessed by his wife, children and parents who were present for a birthday-Mother’s Day family celebration.” The award most likely will be reduced by Superior Court Justice William Anderson, who presided over the trial, the attorneys agreed. Damages for conscious suffering and loss of companionship and emotional distress have been capped by the Legislature. The cap in place at the time of Braley Sr.’s death would apply but attorneys were not sure Tuesday if six years ago it was $300,000 or $400,000. A decision on whether to appeal the case would not be made until after Anderson issues a final judgment and a total damage award is finalized, according to Gould, the hospital’s attorney.

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