Attorneys for A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital and a 51-year-old Oneonta woman who accused doctors at the facility of failing to properly diagnose her heart attack have settled her malpractice claim, nearly 10 months after an Otsego County jury awarded her a record $126 million in damages.
Because all parties of the settlement agreed that the terms and the conditions of the agreement must remain “totally sealed,” an attorney for the former Fox patient, Debora Sohl, said he could not comment on the final negotiated sum the hospital and its insurance carrier agreed to pay her.
But the lawyer, James Linnan of Albany, said although the hospital did not admit to errors, Fox remained legally liable for the damages his client suffered when doctors at the Oneonta facility failed to recognize she was suffering a heart attack after she went to the hospital emergency room Jan. 26, 2009.
“We picked a jury (in Cooperstown) on Monday (July 29) and settled on Tuesday, with efforts by all parties really working towards a settlement,” the veteran malpractice lawyer told The Daily Star. “I would say that we are satisfied with the results, and that my client is very anxious to get on with her life, and, as she said, without judges, lawyers or courtrooms involved in her life.”
“The trial was really weighing on her,” he said of Sohl.
Asked if Sohl is experiencing any lingering health effects, Linnan said: “She is stable. Her heart functions at about 30 percent. It has not gotten significantly worse. She will never be able to work again. She can go up about a half flight of stairs, but then has to stop and catch her breath. The next step for her will be a defibrillator and that will come in about the next three years.”
Fox’s president, John R. Remillard, in a statement to The Daily Star on Monday, stated: “We did not agree with the original verdict, nor did the court, which had thrown out the October 2012 verdict and ordered a new trial. The resolution reached last week as the new trial was commencing allows all parties involved to move on. Fox Hospital has a long history, over 100 years, of providing excellent health care to the Greater Oneonta Region and that remains our mission.”
Sohl, 52, is a former horse trainer, who, according to Linnan, was in such vigorous health prior to her emergency room visit to Fox in 2009 that she tossed bales of hay around with regularity.
These days, Linnan said, “She is up and around, and can putter around the house, but that is about the extent of it. She was in court every day. The first day she was offered — and refused — to take the elevator (to the second floor courtroom). The second day, she took the elevator. She has a great spirit. She is a fighter. She still tries to do everything.”
Last October, when the Otsego County civil court jury decided that Fox was liable for the medical problems suffered by Sohl, Linnan calculated that the total damage award came to $126 million, the largest sum that the lawyer said he has seen awarded in his 38 years of practice. He said it was also represented the highest award ever from an Otsego County jury.
Linnan said the jury verdict finding Fox liable was upheld in post trial motions. “We won liability and we won causation,” he said. “The damage part of it had to be retried.”
It’s not unusual for trial lawyers for both malpractice plaintiffs and hospitals facing claims to work out settlements amid trials called to re-examine large damage awards. Going into such litigation, plaintiffs worry that the initial awards can be vastly reduced, while hospitals can be inspired to settle if their lawyers can work out a significant reduction from the initial award..
Following the October trial, Linnan said Sohl went to the Fox emergency room Jan. 26, 2009, with a “crushing chest pain.” Even though she was exhibiting what the lawyer has called the clear signs of a heart attack, she was given anti-anxiety medication without being treated for the heart condition.
Though there were clear symptoms that she was having cardiac problems, he said, Sohl was given anti-anxiety medication and admitted overnight without being treated for the heart condition.
The following morning, according to Linnan, Sohl’s now former husband, Vincent Herrmann, convinced his cardiac specialist, Dr. Anthony Cammilleri, to examine his wife. It was Cammilleri who decided that Sohl needed to be rushed to UHS Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, a facility equipped with a cardiac catheter laboratory, which Fox lacked, according to Linnan.
Linnan has credited Cammilleri with saving Sohl’s life.
The doctor became a subpoenaed witness who testified on behalf of Sohl and refused to take any payment for his expert testimony, according to Linnan.
The array of evidence presented by Linnan faulted: Dr. James L. Rice, the emergency room physician who first examined Sohl; Dr. Blaine R. Jones, a doctor who examined Sohl after she was admitted and assigned a room that afternoon; and Dr. Maciej Nowakowski; who observed Sohl late the night she was admitted and again the morning before her transfer to Wilson.
Representing Fox and its insurance carrier were Albert J. D’Aquino of Buffalo and James D. Lantier of Syracuse.
Assisting Linnan during the trial was his law partner, Charlene Fallon, a former registered nurse.
Fox is insured by Medical Liability Mutual Co., according to Linnan.