CVN screenshot of defense attorney Kevin Kuhn delivering his closing argument
Kalispell, MT – A Montana state court jury returned a defense verdict on Wednesday in favor of a local hospital and eye clinic in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a teenager who claimed unnecessary delays in critically needed brain surgery caused his permanent blindness.
The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours over two days, including a late-night session on Tuesday that stretched until 10:30pm, before returning an 8-4 verdict clearing Kalispell Regional Medical Center and Glacier Eye Clinic of responsibility for plaintiff Brett Camen’s blindness, which his attorneys argued could have been avoided with an emergency referral for shunt surgery to drain fluid accumulating in his brain.
They sought more than $30 million for Camen, now 18, however the healthcare providers’ attorneys successfully argued the treatment Camen received met the standard of care for a patient presenting with his symptoms, and that shunt surgery – which they characterized as a high-risk procedure – would not have guaranteed that Camen retained his eyesight.
The full six-day trial was recorded and webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Camen sued the hospital and clinic after he began experiencing sudden vision loss and severe head pressure in December of 2017. His lawsuit argued that for nearly a month his doctors failed to act urgently enough as fluid accumulated in his brain, instead referring Camen for additional appointments and treating his continuing vision loss and head pressure with medication.
By the time Camen received a brain shunt roughly a month later in January 2018 his optic nerve was permanently damaged, but the defense team maintained the malignant or “fulminant” intracranial pressure Camen developed was an exceptionally rare condition that did not warrant the immediate insertion of a shunt, which they argued could never be removed, had a low success rate with patients in Camen’s condition and carried the risk of serious side effects like permanent brain damage or even death.
Plaintiff attorney Nick Rowley of the firm Trial Lawyers For Justice told CVN after the trial the case was a “David vs. Goliath battle” in a jurisdiction that to his knowledge had never returned a plaintiff verdict in a medical malpractice trial, and where jurors faced the prospect of ruling against the two largest employers in a small town that many of the jurors themselves relied on for medical treatment.
“These people sided with the healthcare providers who are their healthcare providers,” Rowley said. “Half the jurors and or their family members were patients of the defendants. That makes it tough.”
Attorneys for the defendants did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Rowley said that Camen suffered from a variety of pre-existing health conditions that while unrelated to his eventual blindness did result in a more difficult and complicated case for the jury to decide.
CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Nick Rowley delivering his closing argument
He also took issue with Judge Dan Wilson’s decision to force the jury to continue their deliberations until 10:30pm on Tuesday evening despite their expectations they could go home at 5pm, leaving open the possibility of addressing that concern in post-trial motions.
Rowley said the defense never engaged in serious settlement negotiations, though a high/low agreement was briefly discussed in general terms as the deliberations dragged on.
“The amount of money they were talking about was so low that it would do nothing for Brett,” Rowley said. “There was never a hard offer on the case. All along the offer was zero by both defendants.”
Rowley, who is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier plaintiff trial lawyers, told CVN his first defense verdict in seven years would not deter him from taking on difficult trials despite having the discretion at this point in his career to only accept more favorable cases.
“I’ve tried over 160 cases now. I can pick and choose cases where I could go whack that one, I could go win that one, and I could just pick big ones, cases I’m not going to lose. But that’s not the trial lawyer that I am,” he said. “I will always try tough cases in tough places.”
Rowley spoke favorably of his opposing counsel in the case, describing them as “really reasonable to work with.”
“I’d call them fine trial lawyers that were courteous and professional, and they have my respect,” he said.
He lamented that this outcome, along with another defense verdict in a similar trial filmed gavel-to-gavel by CVN in Georgia state court, would make insurance companies less willing to resolve cases involving injuries like Camen’s, but he said he would welcome the opportunity to try this type of case again.
He described how Camen’s case came to him after his local Montana attorney, who read Rowley’s popular book Trial By Human, contacted him for help with a case he knew faced long odds.
“If someone wants to reach out with another one, I’ll come in and take a swing,” Rowley said.
He also stressed that trial lawyers, especially younger ones early in their careers, must not be deterred by defense verdicts.
“What I want young lawyers and all lawyers to know is that if you’re going to be a real trial lawyer then you better try tough cases that you run the risk of losing, because that is what will set you apart from others who just try the easy cases they know they’re going to win,” Rowley said.
Camen was also represented by Benjamin Novotny and Karen Zahka of Trial Lawyers For Justice, and by local Montana attorney Craig Daue of Buxbaum Daue PLLC.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center was represented by Kevin Kuhn of the Colorado-based firm Wheeler Trig O’Donnell LLP and local Montana counsel Jori Quinlan of Worden Thane PC.
Glacier Eye Clinic was represented by J. Kent Matthewson of the Chicago-based firm Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC and by local Montana counsel Sean Giocoechea of Moore Cockrell Goicoechea Johnson P.C
The case is captioned Brett Camen v. Glacier Eye Clinic PC and Kalispell Regional Medical Center Inc., case number DV-15-2019-0000361-PI, in the Montana Eleventh Judicial District Court in Flathead County.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org