$18,500,000 Jury Verdict for Chemotherapy Caused Paraplegia
Anton Weck was permanently paralyzed from the waist down as a consequence of a mistake in the preparation of a drug administered on May 15, 2001 at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. He is wheelchair bound, incontinent, sexually impotent and dependent on others. Anton is 25 years old and will remain in this condition for the rest of his life.
May 15, 2001 was meant to be one of the happiest in Anton’s life. He went to Saint Peter’s University Hospital on this date for his final dose of Chemotherapy utilized to conquer Leukemia. He was to receive a standard dose of methotrexate injected intrathecally (into the spinal canal). Among other chemotherapeutic agents administered through other roots. He had undergone this exact procedure over 25 times in the past without any adverse effect or complication. As he walked into the hospital, he was healthy and neurologically sound.
Anton’s medications were prepared at Saint Peter’s on May 15, 2001 by a probationary pharmacist, defendant Jhun. Ms. Jhun had essentially no experience in preparing chemotherapeutic agents and was one of if not the most junior pharmacist on staff. She was on 3 months’ probation as a consequence of inadequacies identified during her training which had ended just a few weeks earlier. By her admission, defendant Jhun committed pharmacy malpractice.
Defendant Jhun collected all the chemotherapeutic agents that she would be preparing for each of the patient receiving chemotherapy at Saint Peter’s on May 15, 2001 in a single bin. She carried the bin into the mixing room where she proceeded to mix chemotherapy for each patient consecutively. She described in her deposition that she mixed various chemotherapies (Vincristine and Methotrexate) that Anton Weck would be receiving “at the same time.” It is undisputed that this conduct fall below accepted practices and that it sets the stage for medication errors such as cause contamination and overdose. Jhun DiMatteo, the Director of Pharmacy in May of 2001 at Saint Peter’s, has clearly testified that this conduct was against both good pharmacy practice and the policies and procedures of the pharmacy at Saint Peter’s. Plaintiff’s expert, Mark Holdsworth, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacy in pediatrics at the University of New Mexico will testify that this conduct falls below any threshold of acceptable pharmacy practice. Indeed, no expert in the field of pharmacy practice testified on behalf of Ms. Jhun.
Incredibly, much of the critical documentation which would confirm exactly what defendant Jhun did the pharmacy on May 15, 2001 is missing. It had been either intentionally or negligently misplaced or destroyed by those acting on behalf of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. These documents include a detailed flow sheet which will memorialize exactly the steps taken by defendant Jhun, the type and volume of medications mixed and the cross-checking procedures she followed; a pharmacy log that would memorialize similar information; and the actual order pursuant to which this pharmacist prepared the medications. Further, a twenty-page evaluation form filled out over the course of her training at the Saint Peter’s pharmacy is missing. The testimony of the pharmacy supervisor has confirmed that this document would contain a detailed rendition of the actual training encountered by Ms. Jhun her performance during this training, the inadequacies that she manifested and the specific reasons why she was placed on the maximum probationary period after completing her training in late April 2001.
On August 1st, (2 weeks after that treatment) Anton was readmitted to St. Peters. He was paralyzed. Evidence which came out for the first time at trial revealed that, on June 7, the head of the pharmacy met with Ms. Jhun and discussed the Anton Weck case. Thereafter, she was disciplined and placed on an additional 3 months’ probation. Neither she nor the hospital ever admitted the reason for the discipline and probation. But the jury understood the significance in light of the obvious timing. The key documents went missing between June 1, 2001 and August 15, 2001, when the hospital served with a Notice of Claim. Thereafter, the documents could not be found. Thus it established that the pharmacy department was aware of the possible involvement of the intrathecal medication in causing Anton’s injuries on or before June 1, 2001.
Professor Holdsworth, Pharm. D. testified that defendant Jhun deviated from accepted pharmacy practices. This is undisputed. He testified that the way that defendant Jhun prepared the chemotherapy created the significant risk of cross contamination, which, with overwhelming probability, is what occurred in this case. He testified that the type and progression of neurological injury sustained by Anton is what one would expect with cross contamination of the intrathecal Methotrexate with Vincristine. He testified that no other, non-negligent, course of events would lead to this situation developing. Accordingly, the Court charged res ipsa loquitor.
On March 22, 2006, the jury returned its verdict in the amount of approximately $18,500,000.00. This case was tried by Attorney William Crutchlow.