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Nebraska Jury Awards $685,000 In Hepatitis C Case

Posted on Oct 14, 2005

A Fremont couple has been awarded $685,000 in the first lawsuit to be tried in connection with a hepatitis C outbreak that involved 99 patients. Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver. The award was recommended in the case of Robert Ridder, who brought suit with his wife against Dr. Tahir Javed and nurse Linda Prochaska. The state previously revoked their medical licenses. The infections occurred at the Fremont Cancer Center in 2000. Ninety-two patients filed lawsuits. All but ten cases were settled out of court for undisclosed sums. The outbreak apparently was the largest in U.S. history. The jury awarded $625,000 to Robert Raider, and $60,000 to his wife, Verena. The defendants can ask the courts to reduce the amount awarded by the jury. Such reductions have become commonplace in U.S. courts. The National Center for Infectious Diseases lists these possible long-term effects of Hepatitis C. --Chronic infection: 55% - 85% of infected persons. --Chronic liver disease: 70% of chronically infected persons. --Deaths from chronic liver disease: 1% - 5% of infected persons may die. --Leading indication for liver transplant. One side asked for justice. The other, for common sense. In the end, jurors awarded $685,000 to Robert and Verena Ridder of Fremont for damages resulting from Robert Ridder’s contraction and treatment of hepatitis C. The first trial stemming from the 2002 hepatitis C outbreak in Fremont ended Tuesday with closing statements from attorneys representing the Ridders and defendants Dr. Tahir Javed and nurse Linda Prochaska. The medical professionals earlier admitted negligence during chemotherapy treatments of patients at Javed’s cancer clinic which resulted in the hepatitis C infection of 99 patients. The Ridders’ attorney, Ronald Palagi, said the civil trial was about “accountability, responsibility and damages.” “Bob and Verena Ridder are not here for sympathy,” he told jurors. “They’re here for justice.” Palagi asked for a settlement of $10 million. The jurors instead called for $625,000 for Robert Ridder and $60,000 for Verena Ridder, who had claimed loss of consortium. Following the verdict, the Ridders were tearfully embraced by their daughter, Cheryl Sudbeck, who had testified of his father’s decline following his hepatitis C treatments in 2003. Asked to comment about the settlement, Robert Ridder simply thanked the jury for its decision. A 62-year-old retired farmer, Ridder was declared a sustained responder -one with no detectable virus — by doctors in 2003. That wasn’t enough for the Ridders’ attorney, Ronald Palagi. “What if this comes back?” Palagi asked Tuesday in closing statements. “What if it kills him?” Omaha hepatologist Mark Mailliard testified Oct. 5 that Robert Ridder has a four percent chance of a recurrence. Javed’s attorney, Mark Christensen, called Robert Ridder’s dilemma “a terrible thing.” “Dr. Javed was negligent in training his nurses,” he said. Christensen asked the jury to consider Robert Ridder’s medical history before and after the hepatitis C treatments. Witnesses for Ridder testified earlier that the treatments debilitated the farmer and forced the couple to sell their livestock, machinery and eventually, their homestead near Dodge. Christensen countered that testimony Tuesday, saying Ridder had a history of headaches long before the infection or treatment. He also pointed to Ridder’s steady employment at Howells Fab inc. since January 2002. Christensen suggested a verdict for around $50,000 to compensate for Ridder’s “six months of being sick” and a total of somewhere between $90,000 and $133,00 in damages. Regarding Verena Ridder’s claim of loss of consortium, Greg Thomas, Prochaska’s attorney, suggested a payment of between $5,000 and $15,000. He called the Ridders’ fear of sexual transmission of hepatitis C “irrational and unresearched.” He said physicians have told the couple such transmission of the disease is highly unlikely. But Palagi noted physicians have also verified Robert Ridder can no longer donate blood. Who will pay damages is unclear at this point. Javed participated in the state malpractice liability fund which has a $1.25 million cap on claims. Prochaska was not a member of the fund, according to a morning edition of the Omaha World Herald.

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