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October 12, 2012

In Our Opinion: There were no winners in Fox lawsuit

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The Daily Star

---- — Schadenfreude.

A dictionary defines it as “a malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.”

We have been a bit surprised — and somewhat disappointed — in some of the local reaction since it was learned last week that Oneonta’s A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital had gotten clobbered in a lawsuit to the tune of a $126 million.

In what is believed to be the largest civil judgment in local history, a state Supreme Court jury awarded Debora Sohl, a 51-year-old woman from Oneonta, all that money to cover her past pain and future medical needs.

Her attorney. James Linnan of Albany, said Sohl has lost at least 70 percent of her heart’s pumping capacity and will need a heart transplant within six years. The jury decided Sohl’s condition is largely the fault of medical personnel in the Fox emergency room.

Linnan said Sohl arrived at the emergency room at 9:36 a.m. on Jan. 26, 2009 with a “crushing chest pain,” and it was not until about 2 p.m. that she was examined by an emergency room doctor and given an electrocardiogram. Linnan said Sohl was given anti-anxiety medication and admitted overnight without being treated for a heart condition.

“There was testimony in the case that she was the victim of age and gender bias,” Linnan told The Daily Star. To the Fox emergency room staffers, he said, “she was just some anxious female — and God knows females don’t have heart attacks.”

As a lawyer who just won a massive suit, Linnan can possibly be forgiven for spiking the football and doing a little dance in the end zone.

But several comments from readers of The Daily Star’s online version of the story have reveled in Fox’s misfortune, using the incident as an indication of rampant ineptitude and incompetence at the hospital. 

Fox President John R. Remillard responded to the verdict with a statement basically saying what a good hospital it is and that it will be filing an appeal.

We didn’t hear all the testimony in the case, and can in no way determine whether the award is appropriate. But we certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to be piling on Fox Hospital. Fox is a vital part of our community and has benefited thousands of patients through the years.

Yes, it is more than appropriate for Fox and its parent Bassett Healthcare Network (which did not own Fox at the time of the incident) to do a thorough job of examining its procedures and practices to see what can be done better.

But there are no winners here. Not Fox, and certainly not Debora Sohl.

Any schadenfreude in this instance is terribly inappropriate.