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Medical Malpractice - Verdicts & Settlements

Citizens' Voice - Wilkes-Barre, PA

Swine flu vaccine victim gets $3.9 million verdict

Award is largest in nation

By Jerry O'Brien

A thirty-nine-year-old Pittston woman confined to a wheel chair following her inoculation with swine influenza vaccine in 1976 has been awarded nearly $4 million from the United States of America - the largest swine flu verdict in the nation.

Federal Judge Richard P. Conoboy handed down 104-page decision Monday awarding $3,971,470 to Lucy McDonald of 167 Johnson Street.

The previous highest verdict was reported to be $2 million awarded to a woman physician in Tennessee.

The judge heard testimony in the case for two and one half weeks in December without a jury.

Mrs. McDonald was represented by attorney Joseph Quinn, of Wilkes-Barre, who presented three neurologist, one specialist in nerve conduction and electromyographic studies, two urologist, a psychiatrist, a registered nurse, an economist, and a pathologist. Mrs. McDonald also testified herself.

The central issue in the case was the diagnose of Mrs. McDonald neurological disorder. She contended she is suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) caused by the swine flu inoculation November 14th, 1976. The government took the position that her illness is not GBS, but transverse myelitis (TM), a disease of the spinal cord, which it claimed has no casual relationship to the swine flu vaccination.

Judge Conoboy wrote that the medical witnesses for Mrs. McDonald have impressive credentials and have not only treated numerous GBS patients and written widely on the subject, but one of them also has been afflicted with GBS and as a result has become deeply involved in the studies of this syndrome and its many symptoms.

"They were firm in their opinions that GBS can affect and include the nervous system, and because this plaintiff has so many of the symptoms normally associated to GBS, that it would be highly inappropriate to rule out that diagnose simply because of the presence of central nervous system features," Judge stated.

Judge Conoboy noted that on the other hand the defense medical experts vacillated somewhat, including one doctor who changed his opinion as to causation after he had been supplied by the government with a study of a small number of TM patients in one area of the United States, a study which most of the other doctors testified would be of questionable relevance to the case because of the different criteria used in selecting the patients used in the study.

To rely on or to credit the testimony of the defense medical experts, the judge stated, "one would have to ignore many of the symptoms which have bound in the plaintiffs disease - racked body." (Mrs. McDonald can't walk and has no bowel or bladder control). The judge continued that, "Mrs. McDonald produced in court an overwhelming volume of creditable evidence from witnesses with impeccable credentials, that she does indeed have GBS and that it is a direct result of the vaccine which she received as part of the governments immunization program in 1976."

Judge Conoboy awarded damages for past medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost earning, as well as future loses, architectural changes to the home to accommodate Mrs. McDonald and for pain and suffering.

A summary of the damages follows: past medical expenses, $56,645; future medical expenses including medical treatment, $197,749; nursing care, $2,228,096; miscellaneous equipment, $257,670; architectural changes, $77,000; lost earnings (past and future based on working to age 65), $554,310; and pain and suffering, $600,000.

In conclusion, Judge Conoboy wrote: "the court is not unaware of the unusual length of this opinion. We are mindful too of the exceptional size of the award of damages. But we are equally in cognizance, and deeply impressed, with the enormous impact of the plaintiff extensive injuries. No smaller award could adequately compensate her since her total life, as well as her body, has been drastically and permanently crippled. We have tried, then, in fairness to both parties, to be thorough and complete in layout are reasoning and analysis of the testimony and the evidence presented in this case."

Attorney Quinn noted when the administrative claim was filed in November of 1978 Mrs. McDonald asked for $1 million. The government denied the claim in March of 1980 and the law suit was filed that September. The lawyers said the judge, in his award, had to find there were changing circumstances and facts not known at the time the claim was filed to the extent of injuries and disability.

The award was described by Attorney Quinn as, "satisfying and thrilling" since it was a difficult case.

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