Earlier this month, Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital and one of its doctors lost a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a retired Pensacola firefighter, Michael Vahle. As a result, the defendants must pay $7.6 million to Vahle and his family. The suit was originally filed over claims that the doctor misdiagnosed a bacterial infection as an ankle sprain, causing Vahle to lose a portion of his right leg.
The civil jury trial lasted eight days. According to the Escambia County Clerk of Court office, Vahle and his wife, Jean Vahle, “were respectively awarded $6,805,071 and $787,371” at the conclusion of the trial.
What happened, though? How was such a mistake made? According to the legal complaint, Vahle’s “leg became infected Sept. 11, 2016, after being exposed to the waters of Pensacola Bay.” As the infection spread, Vahle’s right leg became discolored and began to ache. By the next day, the discoloration and pain were worse, so he went to the Ascension Sacred Heart Urgent Care Center at Pensacola to have it looked at. While waiting in the lobby to be seen, blisters began to develop on the leg.
Fred Mixon was the doctor who treated him at the urgent care center. He diagnosed Vahle with an ankle sprain “and discharged him with crutches and instructions to ice and elevate,” the suit noted. The next day, September 13, 2016, Vahle was still in pain and went to a podiatrist. Immediately the podiatrist suspected Vahle “was suffering from an ongoing aggressive bacterial infection.” He then arranged for Vahle to be seen at the West Florida Hospital Emergency Department.
Once at the hospital, Vahle was diagnosed with a “necrotizing bacterial infection that needed to be aggressively treated with antibodies and the removal of dead tissue.” However, after “multiple procedures to remove dead skin, stop and treat the infection,” it was decided that Vahle would need an above-knee amputation of his lower right leg.
The suit named Dr. Mixon as a defendant for misdiagnosing Vahle’s infection, and the Sacred Heart Health System Inc., doing business as Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group. Cameron Stephenson and Justin Lusko were the two attorneys representing Vahle. They worked with the Levin Papantonio Rafferty legal firm. In a statement about the verdict, Stephenson stated:
“This verdict, this result, is all about my clients…What happened to them should have never happened. Justice was done, and I have never been prouder in my professional career…We had good facts and wonderful clients, and the jury just saw the truth.”
Former Pensacola firefighter awarded $7.6M after misdiagnosis cost him part of his leg
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