IADC member Philip Willman and Justin Hardin, both of Brown & James in St. Louis, Missouri, secured a defense verdict for their client, a retinal specialist. The case involved a 20-year-old female plaintiff who saw her optometrist complaining of visual disturbances. She was referred to a retinal specialist for evaluation of a possible retinal detachment.
After a full examination and evaluation, the retinal specialist determined the plaintiff did not have a retinal detachment, but noticed she had dramatic swelling of her optic nerves and suspected she suffered from pseudotumor cerebri. He contacted a neuro-ophthalmologist who treated pseudotumor cerebri and referred the plaintiff to the same. The office was located next door, and the plaintiff was escorted there. The doctor was not in the office, but a visual field test was performed and showed an abnormal visual field. The result of the visual field test was never shared with the plaintiff or the retinal specialist. After conducting the visual field test, it was determined the doctor’s office did not have a contract with Illinois Public Aid and the plaintiff decided to not treat with the neuro-ophthalmologist.
The plaintiff did not return to the retinal specialist’s office, but rather contacted her primary care physician and saw him the following day. She did not receive a referral to a neuro-ophthalmologist or other specialist right away and eventually went nearly completely blind 15 days later as a result of pseudotumor cerebri.
There was no dispute at the trial that the plaintiff had a severe and permanent visual disability. She claimed the retinal specialist was negligent in not ensuring the neuro-ophthalmologist’s office took the plaintiff’s insurance (Illinois Public Aid) prior to referring her to him. The plaintiff also claimed the retinal specialist was negligent for not following up with either the neuro-ophthalmologist or the plaintiff to ensure she was actually seen by the neuro-ophthalmologist for her urgent medical condition.
The plaintiff sought and submitted punitive damages as well. In closing, the plaintiff requested between $5 million and $15 million in damages. The plaintiff did not submit any medical bills and made no lost wage claim. The damages were all in the form of noneconomic damages (it should be noted that because the cause of action accrued in June 2015, the statutory cap on noneconomic damages was not applicable). The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense and apportioned 100 percent of fault to the plaintiff.