Law360's Tort Report: Ex-Model Wins $30M Injury Verdict

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (April 15, 2021, 7:05 PM EDT) -- A $30 million jury verdict in a suit over a convention model's brain injury and a suit over a minor league baseball fan's choking death lead Law360's Tort Report, which compiles recent personal injury and medical malpractice news that may have flown under the radar.

Nev. Jury Awards $29.5M for Model's Brain Injury

A Las Vegas fashion convention model who received negligent medical treatment for a food allergy, causing severe brain damage, has been awarded $29.5 million in damages by a Nevada jury.

Following a three-week trial and just three hours of deliberation, a Clark County jury on April 9 found that MedicWest Ambulance Inc. was liable in a suit accusing the emergency medical services provider of causing Chantel Giacalone's brain damage. In 2013, Giacalone was working as a model at a fashion convention when she ate ice cream that contained peanut butter, triggering a severe allergic reaction.

The suit alleges that MedicWest's policy flouted state health regulations by eliminating the need for medics to carry with them intravenous epinephrine used to treat persons in anaphylactic shock. Instead, the company only had medics carry intramuscular-administered epinephrine, which proved to be an ineffective treatment for Giacalone, who went without oxygen for several minutes, leading to brain damage and quadriplegia, according to court papers.

The jury awarded $12.5 million for future medical expenses, $15 million for past and future pain and suffering and $2 million for lost income, according to the verdict.

An attorney for the Giacalone family, Christian M. Morris of Nettles Morris, told Law360 that her clients were satisfied with the verdict, which they hope will deter similar incidents in the future.

"Corporations are putting their profits before patients and at some point it does have to stop," she said. "I found that [MedicWest was] shorting all kinds of medications, dextrose, activated charcoal, even shorting aspirin in the bags. She walked into the perfect storm of medics who were not trained to take [treatment] seriously and a company that never took it seriously. If this verdict is not enough for them, what will be?"

The socially distanced trial was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center where jurors each had their own computer monitor to observe witnesses, and attorneys had to deliver arguments while wearing masks, according to Morris. The attorney said that although the jurors' inability to see her facial expressions during arguments concerned her, the evidence against MedicWest was so damning that it ultimately did not matter.

The case is Deborah Jean Giacalone v. MedicWest Ambulance Inc. et al., case number A-15-714139-C, in the District Court of Clark County, Nevada.

Ariz. Gov. Enacts COVID-19 Liability Shield for Businesses, Medical Providers

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has approved a bill that gives businesses and health care providers a legal safe harbor from coronavirus-related injury suits.

After narrowly passing both chambers of the Republican-controlled state Legislature, Ducey signed S.B. 1377 into law on April 5, giving legal protection to businesses and health care providers so long as they are acting in good faith and in response to the state's health emergency. Cases involving gross negligence and willful misconduct are excluded.

"Arizona's health care professionals and others on the front lines have worked day and night this last year to protect sick individuals and vulnerable populations," Ducey said in an April 5 statement. "We have taken steps to protect both health care heroes and vulnerable Arizonans during the pandemic, and today's legislation strengthens those protections."

While proponents of the legislation had argued that the bill would protect against frivolous lawsuits, critics said the law is unnecessary given a dearth of coronavirus-related injury suits.

Arizona joins a number of other states with similar laws on their books and follows the enactment of a law in Florida on March 29, which made the Sunshine State the most populous state to date to have adopted a COVID-19 injury liability shield.

$13M Deal Inked for Ill. Newborn's Catastrophic Brain Injury

A medical malpractice suit accusing a health clinic of causing an Illinois woman's newborn baby to suffer a catastrophic brain injury has been settled for $13 million, the family's attorneys announced in March.

Ahead of an August trial, the Wisconsin Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, a state-run medical malpractice fund which makes malpractice payments in cases exceeding $1 million, agreed to settle the suit brought by maternity patient Cortney Kaiser accusing The Monroe Clinic Inc. of causing the birth injuries suffered by her child, referred to in court papers as C.B., according to court records.

The suit claims the clinic negligently administered a labor-inducing drug called Pitocin and failed to properly monitor fetal heart rate, which caused the infant to suffer from a lack of oxygen resulting in permanent brain damage and other injuries, according to the complaint.

An attorney for the family, Ben Crane of Coplan + Crane, said in a statement that the clinic made the bad decision of having an inexperienced nurse tend to Kaiser, a first-time mother.

"It was a recipe for disaster," Crane said. "The nurse was not equipped to monitor the delivery. If she had been, she would have turned off the Pitocin and gotten the doctor to the hospital much sooner."

The case is Kaiser v. The Monroe Clinic Inc. et al., case number 3:19-cv-00315, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Texas Bill Would Cut Down on Trucking Crash Verdicts

Texas lawmakers have advanced legislation that could make it harder for people injured in commercial trucking accidents to obtain multimillion-dollar verdicts against transportation companies.

The bill, H.B. 19, was approved by a Texas House committee this month and would require bifurcated trials in cases where a plaintiff seeks punitive damages. The first phase of a trial would be conducted solely to determine liability, and evidence regarding whether a transportation company flouted federal motor vehicle carrier safety regulations would be limited during the first, but not the second, punitive damages phase.

Currently, there are no requirements for bifurcated trials, and a number of Texas juries have issued verdicts exceeding $100 million in damages in recent years, with the majority of those awards consisting of punitive damages.

The legislation would also set new standards for what vicarious liability claims can be lodged against transportation companies overseeing independent contractor drivers and would also set new evidentiary standards for what photos or videos can be admissible in court.

Texas Trucking Association President John Esparza said during a Texas House Judiciary Committee hearing held this month that "the lawsuit environment in Texas" is threatening the state's trucking industry.

"In the last several years alone, this trucking industry has witnessed an alarming increase of massive personal injury awards," he said. "These grossly inflated verdicts are driving up insurance costs at such a rate that it is driving trucking companies out of business."

Opponents of the bill include the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which contends the bill will allow transportation companies to pin all the blame on independent drivers they've hired for hauling jobs.

Minor League Baseball Team Sued Over Man's Eating Contest Death

The son of a man who choked to death during a minor league baseball team's taco-eating contest has lodged a wrongful death suit against the owner of the Fresno Grizzlies.

The suit filed in California state court on April 5 alleges that the team's owner, Fresno Sports and Events, negligently held the amateur competitive eating event during an August 2019 game which caused the death of Dana Hutchings at the age of 41, according to the complaint.

"Fresno Sports and Events knew or should have known that promoting inherently dangerous eating competitions with coarse foods, such as tacos, are more likely to lead to choking, especially, for an amateur eating participant," the complaint said.

The case is Marshall Hutchings v. Fresno Sports and Events LLC, case number 21CECG00941, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Fresno.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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