$22M Verdict Against PAMF in Malpractice Lawsuit

Jury finds Palo Alto Medical Foundation negligent in treatment of Menlo Park woman’s migraines: By Sue Dremann, Palo Alto Weekly Staff

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation was hit with one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Santa Clara County history Monday, March 19, after a Menlo Park woman suffered paralysis while undergoing treatment for migraines.

The jury of six men and six women, many of whom are well-educated professionals, socked the foundation with a $22 million verdict for the injuries to Robyn Frankel, who was 43 years old in 2006 when the malpractice occurred.

Frankel suffered from migraines her entire life, Summer Woodson, an attorney for Frankel said Wednesday, March 21. She went through several non-invasive imaging procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging.

In 2006, doctors decided to give her a cerebral angiogram. The procedure involved injecting a dye into a vein to inspect what doctors believed could be causing her headaches. But according to the lawsuit, Frankel was not told that the procedure was invasive and risky; and the jury found she was not given informed consent, Woodson said.

“She had a reaction to the procedure and stroked out,” Woodson said. “Nobody talked to her about why she is having it or the risks.”

Expert witnesses testified that the cerebral angiogram was not medically necessary, and it did not provide any benefit. Nothing could be seen that wasn’t already visible in the non-invasive tests. Looking at the vein as a cause of her headaches was “baloney,” Woodson said the experts testified.

Frankel had two small children and a lucrative career as a property manager in her family’s business, Frankel Properties, prior to the stroke. She was in a coma for six weeks and woke up with no use to her right side and limited use of her left side. She requires full-time, round-the-clock care, Woodson said.

The case was originally filed in 2008, but was dismissed in May 2010 with prejudice, which meant it could not be reopened, she said.

Stanford University Medical Center, which was also a defendant, had petitioned the court for a summary judgement. Frankel’s previous attorney felt he would have difficulty opposing or winning the summary judgement and dropped the case, Woodson said.

Frankel then hired David Bovino and Aspen, Colo.-based Bovino and Associates, and co-counsels Emison Hullverson Mitchell LLP of San Francisco. The firms were able to get the case reopened by showing there were “triable issues of fact,” Woodson said.

Stanford settled the case for an undisclosed sum on the first day of the trial, she said. The trial began on Feb. 21.

The jury found that Palo Alto Medical was negligent in Frankel’s treatment and care, and that negligence was a substantial factor in causing her harm.

The verdict includes $2 million for past economic losses in earnings and past medical expenses, $14 million for future economic losses and Frankel’s future care, and $6 million for pain and suffering.

The pain and suffering award would immediately be brought down to $250,000, the cap under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, Woodson said.

There are not so many medical malpractice cases in California because of the pain and suffering cap, Woodson said. The large verdict is most probably because of Frankel’s young age, and the long life she is expected to live with her disabilities.

Frankel’s medical care costs between $300,000 and $350,000 per year, Woodson said.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Carol Overton is expected to enter the final judgement on the verdict in a few weeks. Woodson said an appeal by the medical foundation is expected, and is standard in such cases. It could be filed in about two to three months after the final judgement is entered.

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