Appeals Court Affirms Seemingly Low Damage Award in Medication Error Case, Amends Judgment to Add Loss of Consortium Damages: Langley v. American Legion Hospital

A woman seeking treatment for an allergic reaction to a bee sting alleged in a lawsuit that she suffered severe and ongoing injuries when hospital staff incorrectly administered her medication. After a trial in Langley v. American Legion Hospital, the court awarded her $25,000 in damages, but awarded nothing to her husband for his loss of consortium claim. The plaintiffs appealed, and the appellate court, while affirming the amount of damages awarded to the wife, reversed the trial court’s denial of damages to the husband.

Shirley Langley went to the emergency room at American Legion Hospital in Crowley, Louisiana on December 5, 2007 with a bee sting causing an allergic reaction. After an initial subcutaneous injection of epinephrine seemed successful, she developed a rebound reaction. The ER doctor ordered another subcutaneous dose of epinephrine, but Langley received the dose intravenously. As an expert would later testify, drugs administered intravenously have a much faster and more pronounced effect. Epinephrine is a very powerful stimulant that can cause a significantly increased heart rate and other complications. After receiving the intravenous dose, Langley reportedly complained of a headache, and her blood pressure quickly shot up from 136/55 to 205/129. Her heart rate increased from 101 beats per minute to nearly 190. She spent about eight hours in the Intensive Care Unit receiving treatment for supraventricular tachycardia.

After the incident, Langley allegedly began to experience multiple health complications, including possible heart and nerve damage, and both pain and numbness in her extremities. She claims she experienced recurring nightmares, anxiety, weight loss, and mood swings. She and her husband, Gregory Langley, sued the hospital, claiming damages for her pain and suffering and medical costs, and for his loss of consortium. The parties stipulated that the hospital breached its standard of care, so causation and damages were the only issues at trial. The court awarded the plaintiffs $25,000 in general damages, but nothing for the loss of consortium.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the $25,000 judgment was “abusively low” and that the trial court erred in not awarding loss of consortium damages. The court found that the $25,000 damage award was objectively reasonable because the plaintiffs did not prove by a preponderance of evidence that the medication error caused all of Mrs. Langley’s injuries. The plaintiffs produced four medical experts at trial, but none of them testified explicitly that the epinephrine error caused her “present day complaints.” Each expert allowed the possibility of other intervening or underlying causes, including the bee sting itself and stress from other events in her life. The evidence conclusively proved that she suffered physical and psychological injuries at the time of the error, the appellate court found, so the trial court was reasonable in awarding her $25,000.

The trial court had denied loss of consortium damages because of the lack of evidence of causation that led to the seemingly low general damages amount. The appellate court held that the trial court erred, noting that “loss of consortium” does not just mean loss of physical contact or affection. It may also include other activities, services, or support. The plaintiffs presented evidence of activities they once enjoyed, such as fishing, that Mrs. Langley can no longer do. They also showed that her mental state has affected Mr. Langley’s life through the extra effort required to care for her. The appellate court found that this merited an award of damages in the amount of $2,500.

The Maryland attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Punitive Damages in Maryland Medication Error Litigation: Marsh v. Arnot Ogden Medical Center, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, October 4, 2012
Insurance Company Denies Accidental Death Benefits, Arguing that Man’s Death from Medication Error Was Not an “Accident”: Estate of Paul v. New York Life Insurance Company, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, September 27, 2012
Woman Injured by Medication Error During Eye Surgery Gets New Trial, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, September 13, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Epinephrine 1-1000 (1)’ by Intropin (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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