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$10 Million Verdict Awarded to Medical Malpractice Victim

A young woman who suffered through 11 years of complications resulting from a botched knee operation has been awarded $10 million in damages by a West Virginia jury.

Allison Riggs, now 25, claimed that she contracted an infection while undergoing knee surgery in 1995, at Ruby Memorial Hospital. She has undergone seven additional surgeries to correct the resulting complications.

Riggs’ attorneys claimed that West Virginia University Hospitals Inc, the hospital’s parent company, did not inform its patients or employees that they were experiencing an epidemic around the time of Riggs’ surgery.

Senator Evan Jenkins, who also serves as executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association, said that a judge will most likely reduce the award to comply with the $1 million statutory cap. The Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld the cap at least twice before, he said.

Paul Farrell, Riggs’ attorney, said he is pleased with the verdict, adding that the jurors are sending a strong message by awarding such a large amount to his client.

“I’m not surprised,” he commented. “I think the size of the verdict is a direct reflection of the hospital’s refusal to take responsibility for the failure of its infection control department, and the impact it had on this girl’s life and development.”

West Virginia Hospital Association executives, Tony Gregory and Jim Kranz, refused to comment on the Riggs’ case directly, but said their hospitals’ facilities are doing everything they can to minimize the risk of hospital-acquired disease.

According to Kranz, there have been great advancements in infection control since the surgery took place, but diagnosing an infection as hospital-acquired is still complicated since symptoms do not usually reveal themselves until the patient has left the hospital.

Kranz went on to say that the Department of Health and Human Services is working on a way to allow hospital facilities to provide surgical site infection rates to the public. He expects it to be operational by 2007.

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