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Personal Injury Verdicts & Awards

$7M Settlement Ends Malpractice Case

Jan. 14, 2003

By Fred Ney
Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE -- It cost two doctors and Wilkes-Barre Mercy Hospital $7 million Monday to settle a wrongful death lawsuit that sought to hold them responsibility for the death of Frank Thornton of Wilkes-Barre.

The end of the 2-year ordeal came Monday at an news conference called by the plaintiff's lawyer, Joseph Quinn, to announce the terms of the settlement; to elicit a humiliating apology from the hospital and to showcase the point that skyrocketing medical malpractice rates are caused, in large part, by refusal to settle such cases early on.

Mr. Quinn was joined at the news conference by Dorothy Thornton, widow of the 72-year-old victim, who suffered brain damage that ultimately claimed his life as a result of an improperly placed anesthesia ventilator tube.

Expected to last more than two weeks, the trial was in its third day Friday when it recessed abruptly amid word that settlement discussions were planned for the weekend.

Mr. Quinn earlier made it clear that he held Dr. Esther McKenzie, an anesthesiologist, and Dr. Walter Boris, a surgeon, responsible for Mr. Thornton's death.

He accused Dr. McKenzie of inserting the ventilator tube in the esophagus instead of the trachea and he accused Dr. Boris of failing to intervene to correct the problem.

The hospital, he asserted, failed to properly screen Dr. McKenzie when she was hired, despite the fact that she did not present proper credentials and had failed attempts to become board certified five times.

Moreover, Mr. Quinn said the hospital tried to cover up the situation by failing to record any pertinent information about the errors on its permanent record.

But the reason the trial ended so abruptly Friday, according to Mr. Quinn, was that hospital Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery Dr. George Moses was the next witness to be called.

"Dr. Moses, had he been allowed to testify, would have given evidence about 28 violations of hospital standards and 14 or 15 violations of Department of Health regulations that occurred at the hospital," Mr. Quinn said. Dr. Moses and some other doctors were "willing to tell the truth," he said.

Dr. Moses could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mercy Hospital's chief executive officer, James May, offered "condolences and an apology" to Mr. Thornton's widow at the news conference. "This has been a tragedy for Mercy Hospital as well. But a sincere attempt to learn the truth will make honesty our reality," he said.

Mrs. Thornton, who talked about visiting her husband "in the cemetery," said she was grateful the lawsuit has been resolved. "I hope that Mercy changes its practices," she said.

Mr. Quinn said the Thornton case shows there are valid malpractice cases. He said his firm spent $249,000 to date on expenses related to prosecuting the case. "And all the bills are not in yet," he said.

He said he conducted 26 depositions of doctors, nurses and hospital administrators and retained 20 expert witnesses to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs.

"There must be a mechanism to eliminate frivolous cases, but when there is merit, victims must be able to proceed," he said. "Some doctors feel they shouldn't be held accountable."

Mr. Quinn said talk of tort reform often mentions putting limits on jury awards, and $250,000 is often mentioned as a proper limit.

The lawyer said limiting jury awards to $250,000 "would discriminate against senior citizens and constitute an insult."

Mr. Quinn said the Thornton case "could have been settled for a lot less had it been done earlier to eliminate the lion's share of the costs of pursuing a case for two and a half years."

He said his law firm would get 40 percent of the $7 million settlement and that the plaintiffs, including the widow and her adult children, will get a "lump sum payment."

PLEASE NOTE: Every case is fact specific, and these results do not guaranty the same results will be obtained in a different case.

About HKQ Law

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Report, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm across multiple categories in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



As Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn addresses the concerns raised by COVID-19, the health and safety of our clients, employees and friends of the firm remain our top priority.

These are very difficult and scary times and we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and symptom free. We recognize that so many of you are understandably anxious about your health, the economic impact of this pandemic and all of the consequences of social isolation.

We also recognize that many of you are anxious about how the coronavirus is impacting the Court systems, our firm and your cases. Although all of our offices are closed, our firm has remained fully operational and we have initiated procedures that allow all of our attorneys and staff to work remotely from their homes. Each of us and our staff will respond to any emails and calls about your cases as quickly as possible.

Our Federal and State Courts have instituted significant changes in their calendars as a result of the coronavirus. Although most courthouses are closed to the public, and Hearings and Trials will be delayed for some time, there are matters that can proceed telephonically and by video. Despite these changes in the Court calendars, we are working diligently on your cases and are determined to do whatever we possibly can to assure an early and just recovery for you and your loved ones. Even under these difficult circumstances, we believe that "Nobody will work harder for you than we will."

With regard to new potential clients, we are not in a position to have an in-person new client meeting, but we will be conducting these initial meetings via phone. New potential clients should call us for a free telephone consultation at (570) 287-3000.


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