The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA – Last week came justice; this week comes punishment, a lawyer told a jury on Tuesday.
Steve Yerrid, representing a man whose stroke was misdiagnosed as a headache, thanked a jury for awarding his client $116.7 million in compensatory damages on Friday. At a hearing Tuesday, he begged them to send a message to doctors and insurance companies everywhere: “Don’t ever put profits over patients’ safety.”
“Now’s not the time for mercy,” Yerrid said. “Now’s not the time, as I said, for compassion. Now is the time for the sword.”
The jury complied.
The three men and three women took about a half hour to award Allan Navarro $100.1 million in punitive damages.
On Aug. 9, 2000, Navarro went to University Community Hospital in Carrollwood with nausea, a headache, dizziness, confusion and double vision. He was diagnosed with sinusitis and a headache and, about five hours later, was told to go home.
The next day, Navarro returned. A stroke left him in a coma three months. Now, 50-year-old Navarro has no use of his arms or legs.
During the three-week trial, Navarro’s defense team showed the misdiagnosis was not made by a doctor.
University Community Hospital contracts its emergency room services to a doctors group. That group had hired Mark Herranz as an “expediter” who would take patient’s histories for the on-duty physicians.
Instead, Yerrid contended at trial, Herranz performed physical exams, including the misdiagnosis of Navarro. Herranz was not a licensed health care provider and had failed a physician’s assistant exam four times, Yerrid said.
The jury found Herranz, physician Michael Austin and two physicians groups liable for Navarro’s injuries. University Community Hospital was not named in the suit. Howard Franklin, a spokesman for the group, declined comment, as did their attorney.
Family Says Justice Served
Navarro’s family was overjoyed with the verdict.
Ed Bilbao, Navarro’s brother-in-law and the spokesman for the family, said the family is glad justice has been served but the high award was a bittersweet victory. Navarro, Bilbao said, will never get his life back.
“His mind is very much intact,” Bilbao said. “He’s trapped in that body that is no use to him.” It could have been worse, Bilbao said.
Bilbao credits his wife, Susan Bilbao, for keeping her brother alive. Many family members considered removing Navarro from life support when he was in the coma. She asked them to wait a little longer.
Navarro, a naturalized citizen, was a former pro basketball player in his native Philippines. Now that his attorneys have secured a massive jury award, the next step in the legal process is collection.
The two physicians groups – Franklin, Favata & Hulls, M.D.s and Carrollwood Emergency Physicians – filed for bankruptcy on Monday.
Brian Stokes, the attorney for the groups, said in court Tuesday that the companies are disbanded and have no employees. The bank accounts have about $50,000 to $100,000.
ProNational Insurance Co., that represents the doctors, has filed court documents that say it is not responsible for paying because the doctors gave conflicting testimony in court.
Yerrid said he will go after anyone necessary to collect, starting with ProNational.
Insurance Company Offered $300
Before trial, Yerrid said, he tried to get the insurance company to settle for the maximum allowed under the policy – $1 million for doctor Austin and $1 million for the physicians’ group. Instead, the insurance company wanted to settle for $300. Yerrid said it offered $100 for Navarro, $100 for his wife and $100 for his 10-year-old son.
In Florida, if an insurance company acts in bad faith while trying to avoid the payment of a policy, it can be subject to damages in excess of the policy limit. Yerrid said he will try to collect the entire $216 million from the company’s underwriter.
Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt, who is not affiliated with the case, said Yerrid probably has a pretty good shot at getting some money from the insurance company.
“It’s not as hard as you’d think,” Scarritt said.
Navarro would have to take a separate legal action against ProNational and another jury would have to determine that the company acted in bad faith.
If a jury looks at the insurance company’s offer of $300 and the jury verdict of $116.7 million, that’s not a hard point to prove, Scarritt said.
A spokesman for ProNational said he would not comment on pending litigation.
Yerrid said he also might be able to collect from the physicians’ group, or its new entity.
Franklin, formerly of Franklin, Favata & Hulls M.D.s, testified on Tuesday that Tampa Bay Emergency Physicians now runs the emergency room for the hospital. He said he and his two former partners are board members and partners in the new group.
(CHART) TOP AWARDS
Hillsborough County jury awards since 1990: — In 2004, a former armored car employee wins $33.89 million after 700 pounds of coins fell on him during a traffic accident.
— A Tampa man is awarded $27 million in 1999 because his secret method of preparing roasted chicken was poached by the nation’s third-largest poultry company.
— In 1994, $26.7 million is awarded to man who broke his neck in a wrestling accident.
— A family is awarded almost $17 million in 2001 after one daughter is killed and another left with brain damage stemming from a traffic accident.
— In 1995, a jury awards a man $16 million after he breaks his back in a fall on a construction site.