Home Medical Malpractice Supreme Court rejects Mercy appeal, hospital must now pay $9.6M for malpractice | Local News

Supreme Court rejects Mercy appeal, hospital must now pay $9.6M for malpractice | Local News

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Case represents likely largest medical malpractice judgement in county history 

An appeal of a malpractice judgment against Mercy Clinics and two of its doctors has been rejected by the Missouri Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court, and Mercy will not be allowed to appeal further.

Vincent Lowe of Union, then  55, was awarded a net of $12.8 million in 2017 in his malpractice suit against Mercy Clinics East Communities, Mercy Hospitals East Communities and Drs. Bryan Menges and James D. Cassat in a judgment signed by Associate Circuit Judge Stanley Williams. 

The case was transferred to Lowe’s wife after he died in October 2019, but the appeals continued. It is believed to be the largest medical malpractice judgment ever awarded in Franklin County.

“Of course we’re happy, it took a darn long time,” said Jefferson City attorney Edward “Chip” Robertson Jr., who represented the plaintiff on the appeal. “But, finally, this woman, who is now widowed, is going to get something from the judgment that she got from the doctors and the hospital.” 

Mercy released the following statement Friday afternoon: “We sympathize with Mr. Lowe’s family. While we believe all care provided was medically appropriate and correct, we appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration of our appeal and have paid the verdict.”

According to court documents, a procedure in 2014 left Lowe with short bowel syndrome. Because of “Defendants’ negligent failure to timely diagnose and treat the condition known as mesenteric ischemia which was causing inadequate blood supply to Mr. Lowe’s intestines, a substantial portion of Mr. Lowe’s lower bowel had to be surgically removed, and as a result, he suffered injuries including short bowel syndrome and required extensive ongoing medical care,” the documents state.

Lowe came to the Mercy Hospital Washington emergency department with abdominal pain on April 30, 2014, according to previous Missourian reporting.

A CT scan was performed on Lowe’s abdomen and pelvis, showing portal gas and atherosclerosis.

During that same time, Drs. Cassat and Menges consulted on the telephone and recommended an outpatient ultrasound.

Lowe was discharged home with prescriptions for pain medication on May 1 but returned to Mercy Washington with continued abdominal pain May 4 .

At that time he was diagnosed with mesenteric ischemia and was transferred to Mercy Hospital St. Louis for emergency surgery, including an SMA bypass graft and bowel resection, according to Missourian archives.

In his complaint, Lowe contended the Mercy Clinic East Communities accepted him for the purpose of providing medical, surgical, emergency treatment and services. But instead, he accused Mercy’s agents, employees and staff of breaching those duties by failing to evaluate him properly and in a timely way; consider and treat portal gas and atherosclerosis on April 30; failing to order proper surgical consultation; failing to properly diagnose and perform surgical consultation and examination; failing to admit Lowe to the hospital for observation, additional testing, consultations and treatment; failing to timely transfer Lowe to a higher level of care and instead negligently discharged him home; and failing to properly consider diagnoses found on a CT scan.

The case was firstfiled in 2016.

Because part of the judgment was to pay for Lowe’s future medical damages and noneconomic damages, and his remaining life expectancy given at the trial was 25.7 years, Williams reduced the amount of the judgment by $3.2 million in March 2020 to $9.6 million because Lowe lived less than two years after the initial ruling.

Mercy continued to appeal. After Lowe’s death, Mercy Hospitals and Menges asked that the judgment be vacated and the case remanded to circuit court to consider whether any future damages remain payable. The appeals court rejected the request in December 2019.

The earlier decision in Franklin County Circuit Court was again upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District on Nov. 16, 2021. 

Mercy argued that it should have to pay lower attorney’s fees because of the reduced judgment, but attorney’s fees were kept at $5.2 million. Another $4.49 million was awarded to Carol Lowe for “past economic damages, past non-economic damages, future non-economic damages and medical damages.”

There are no punitive damages in the case.

On April 5, 2022, the Supreme Court of Missouri denied Mercy’s application to transfer the case to the state Supreme Court, Laura Roy, clerk of the Eastern District Appeals Court, wrote in an email to The Missourian.

“Mercy cannot appeal any further as the Supreme Court denied the transfer,” Roy wrote. “The Supreme Court of Missouri is Missouri’s court of last resort.”

Franklin County Circuit Clerk Bill D. Miller, who has been in office 40 years, said Friday that the award is the largest he is aware of in Franklin County in a medical malpractice case.

In his order, Chief Court of Appeals Judge Robert Clayton III wrote that the case has “a lengthy and unique history.” He added that there is “no merit” to Mercy and the doctors’ claim that they are protected from payment by a state law that deals with payments to deceased medical creditors.

One reason the case dragged out for so long is because interest does not accumulate in medical malpractice cases during appeals in Missouri, Robertson said. “Effectively, there’s no incentive for the hospital or the doctors in this case to try and resolve the case early, to help out the person who is suffering,” he said. 

Mercy is expected to begin payments “any day now,” Robertson said Friday morning. “Whether they agree or not, they’ve been told by a court, ‘This is what you have to do,’” he said.

Robertson is pleased to see the case finally wrap up for Carol Lowe. “I think she’s had some difficulty as a result of the loss of her husband, financially, and some other things,” he said. “This money just sat there for four years, basically. It was a terrible tragedy on every side. The doctors aren’t happy. That’s what lawsuits are about, unfortunately.”

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