THE FAMILY OF Frank Thornton wasn't the only winner Monday in a medical malpractice case against Mercy Hospita
Joseph A. Quinn, Jr.
EDITORIAL: Settlement disclosure a dose of openness
In most cases, the public wins when settlements in lawsuits are open to the public. Yes, the Thornton estate was awarded $7 million. But in this situation, openness benefited not only the Thornton estate but also the public and even Mercy Hospital.
That was the claim of Dorothy Thornton. "No amount of money can ever change the fact that when I visit my husband I have to visit him at the cemetery. This lawsuit was to find the answers that no one would give us."
Her husband, Frank, died in September 2000, a few weeks after surgery. Doctors placed the breathing tube down his esophagus instead of his windpipe. Without oxygen for six to 10 minutes, Thornton's brain was damaged and lead to his death, said Thornton's attorneys.
The tragedy was made worse, said Thornton's attorneys, when doctors also missed signs of problems during surgery and afterward, when the hospital failed to tell Thornton's family about the errors.
So Monday, in addition to the monetary award, Dorothy Thornton found out what happened to cause her husband's death at 72. Because the settlement was open - good for Dorothy Thornton, good for the public's right to know - we were made aware of the series of situations. And the hospital had the opportunity to make amends to the Thornton family, begin a program to promote a patient's right to know and correct the system to prevent future lapses.
Imagine if secret settlements with the Catholic Church over child-molester priests continued to jeopardize the public. Or settlements with Firestone hid the dangers of some tires.
The secrecy issue is being challenged around the country. Federal judges in South Carolina voted last year to ban secret court settlements, particularly in cases in which public safety is threatened.
Proponents of secret settlements say there must be in balance that people have a right to privacy and that a settlement always implies an admission of guilt.
Contrary to that argument, however, keeping people uninformed can leave all sides under a shadow of guilt. In cases in which privacy is warranted, such as potentially embarrassing abuse or the welfare of a child, we can see a judge using discretion.
Attorneys in the Thornton case said the settlement would have been less if the hospital had been more open sooner and the case wasn't so expensive to investigate.
Maybe that's true, maybe that's an attorney making the most of success. In any case, we think the public has a right to be to served with openness and that people can analyze for themselves who is guilty.
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 www.HKQLaw.com or by calling (800) 760-1529.