An oil-field worker injured in a truck accident nearly three years ago recently won a $9 million federal court jury verdict in his lawsuit against Campbell County Memorial Hospital and an emergency room physician.
It is believed to be the most costly medical malpractice verdict on record in Wyoming. The previous high was $1.5 million, according to Tom Metier, an attorney with offices in Cheyenne and Fort Collins, Colo., who was the trial counsel for the case.
Louis Prager, a resident of Montana and then an employee of Conquest Energies Co., was driving a company truck on Dec. 9, 2008, when the vehicle went off an icy road and rolled several times before landing on its top.
Prager complained of neck and shoulder pain to emergency personnel, who transported him to the Gillette hospital.
The emergency room physician, Dr. Brian Cullison, ordered X-rays and CT scans of Prager’s head, facial bones and thoracic spine but not of his neck, the lawsuit said.
Prager, then 51 years old, was discharged the same day and went to a co-worker’s home to recuperate.
On Dec. 13, 2008, he woke up with extreme pain in his neck and left shoulder and weakness in his arm.
He returned to the emergency room where further tests disclosed he had suffered a broken neck. Prager underwent surgery to stabilize his neck the same day.
The surgery stopped further injury but could not undo the nerve damage, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, filed by Prager and his wife, Rebecca, claimed the defendants were negligent with his care.
During the nine-day trial, defense attorneys argued that Prager’s pain and limited movement in his left arm resulted from a worsening and progressing shoulder injury, not failure to diagnose his cervical fracture.
The jury verdict, returned Oct. 27, awarded Prager $7 million. It also awarded his wife $2 million for harm to her marriage and loss of consortium.
The Cheyenne attorneys who represented the hospital, Billie Addleman and Richard Schneebeck, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Neither did a spokesman for the Wyoming Medical Society.
Metier said Monday that Prager is in constant pain, can’t work and will require more surgery.
He believes the verdict will prompt hospitals and physicians to review their practices in order to prevent future situations such as Prager’s.
The president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, Diana Rhodes of Cheyenne, said the Prager jury recognized a medical error had occurred.
“The message that jury was sending is Wyoming citizens will not accept medical care below standards,” Rhodes said.
Casper attorneys Todd Ingram and Scott Olheiser litigated the case before it went to trial.