An $8.5 million settlement in the case of a woman who was left severely brain-damaged after a simple surgical procedure has been approved in Benton County Superior Court in Washington state.
The settlement resolves claims by 32-year-old Kimberly Jones and her family against Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Wash., and Robert Lee Berry, M.D., an anesthesiologist from Madisonville, La.
Jones had a heart attack while undergoing a 15-minute tubal ligation on Nov. 12, 2002, after the birth of her third child. She has been comatose since and is in a vegetative state at a nursing home in Lansing, Mich., the home of her parents, Calvin and Gloria Jones.
According to documents filed in the case, Berry failed to monitor Jones properly, allowing her blood pressure to drop dangerously low, and removed her breathing tube while she was still paralyzed from sedatives.
In an unsigned statement, the hospital said Berry's actions were affected by his use of drugs he diverted from patients.
"The heartfelt thoughts of all of us at Kadlec will remain with Ms. Jones and her family," the statement added. "We believe that this tragedy occurred through the acts of Dr. Berry influenced by his diversion of narcotics."
Ron Perey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Berry admitted he diverted Demerol, a narcotic pain reliever, for his own use and left Washington to enter a rehabilitation program for drug-impaired physicians.
Berry came to Kadlec from Louisiana. He was practicing in a temporary capacity while Kadlec recruited a full-time anesthesiologist.
Hospital officials claimed that Berry's previous employer in Louisiana knew he had a drug problem but never acted against him or alerted others in the medical community. Berry's previous employer was not identified.
"Not only did his prior employer and hospital fail to investigate, they also sent reference letters which did not disclose that Dr. Berry had actually been fired for being impaired on the job and putting their patients at significant risk," the statement said.
"Had Kadlec been told the truth about Dr. Berry's past employment, he would never have been allowed to practice at our hospital," it said. "Kadlec hopes it can deter other hospitals from sweeping a problem doctor under the carpet and then passing the doctor off to another unsuspecting hospital."
Kadlec was cited for failing to notify the state properly that Berry had been removed from practice, but hospital officials said they thought they had followed the correct procedures.
Washington has suspended Berry's license to practice. State officials said he had not practiced medicine since shortly after Jones' heart attack.
Perey said he hoped Louisiana also would suspend Berry's license.
Judge Craig J. Matheson said Thursday he would determine later how the settlement will be divided among the plaintiffs: Jones, her parents, her fiancé, Christopher Mirisciotta, and their three children, Christian, 11, Essence, 5, and KaeDence, 15 months, all of Richland.
The judge rejected a request that the agreement be sealed from public scrutiny.
Kadlec's insurer, Physicians Insurance Co., will pay $7.5 million, and Berry's insurer, G.E. Medical Protection Insurance Co., will pay $1 million, Perey said in a statement.
The payments are no indication of the respective levels of responsibility, only "the limits of the insurance," Matheson said.
The case had been set for trial March 29.