Posted on Feb 18, 2007
$2.4 million sought in lawsuit over botched spinal X-ray
By Adam Jadhav
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
EDWARDSVILLE — A Madison County jury awarded $450,000 on Thursday to a Godfrey man hurt during a spinal X-ray in 2004 after the doctor, hospital and clinic admitted botching the test.
But the amount of damages the jury decided on was far lower than the $2.4 million the plaintiff's attorney had requested. The jury deliberated for about four hours before reporting the decision to Circuit Judge David Hylla just after 8 p.m.
The basis for the medical malpractice case was a myelogram performed on James Halloway, now 81, at Alton Memorial Hospital by Dr. Samuel Essma. Both sides acknowledge that Essma injected the wrong chemical dye into Halloway's spine for the scan and that Halloway suffered tremendous muscle spasms and had trouble breathing that left him in the hospital for more than two weeks.
But the agreement stopped there. Halloway and his wife, Alice, argued that the mistake led to a condition called arachnoiditis, inflammation of tissue inside the spine.
Defense attorneys said Halloway only deserved a damage award relating directly to his time in the hospital. They put that figure at $250,000 — about one-tenth of what Halloway's attorney, Rex Carr, asked the jury to award his client.
Records showed Halloway's health varied in the past two years and just a year ago his legs gave out. Today he uses a walker. Halloway claims debilitating pain, spasms, bladder problems, sexual dysfunction and more as a result of the test. Expert witnesses testified that those conditions are all possible symptoms of arachnoiditis.
"(The defendants) have caused this man pain so bad he could barely walk," Carr, of East St. Louis, said in closing arguments. "They say it was just a mistake. That was gross negligence."
But attorneys for the doctor and hospital say Halloway's conditions were never proven to be the result of arachnoiditis. They admit that the wrong dye was used but say the damage was fixed during Halloway's hospital stay after the 2004 test.
They told the jury to attribute any further pain or worsening condition to the man's age and history of both heart trouble and spinal stenosis, a pinching of the nerves and spinal cord.
"No doctor in this case, no treating physician ever diagnosed (Halloway) with arachnoiditis," said Thaddeus Eckenrode, Essma's St. Louis attorney. "The arachnoiditis is in fact a red herring in this case."
Halloway had two previous surgeries to correct the spinal stenosis. The 2004 myelogram was being done as he was considering a third. One expert testified that the only definitive test for arachnoiditis was another myelogram, which Halloway has said he won't have again.
The heated debate over medical malpractice litigation was raised at multiple points in the trial, in particular during jury selection and again by Carr during closing arguments. Carr told jurors not to sympathize with Essma simply because he was a doctor.
Late last month, a jury rejected a $10.9 million request by Carr in an unrelated trial. Afterward, Carr suggested that jurors might have sided against him because of the political stigma surrounding medical malpractice lawsuits.