Kaiser Permanente in Fresno partly negligent for infection damage
Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in north Fresno was partially negligent for failing to tell one of its patients that he had a dangerous staph infection, a Fresno County Superior Court jury ruled Tuesday.
The untreated infection left 27-year-old Dusten Chevalier a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, said Fresno attorneys Stuart Chandler and Daniel Harralson, who represented Chevalier.
The jury awarded $5 million in damages, but found Chevalier 70% responsible for his medical condition. Kaiser was only 30% negligent, meaning it must pay $1.5 million in damages.
In an email, Kaiser Permanente said patient care is top priority. Kaiser said Chevalier didn’t keep two follow-up appointments with infectious disease and urology specialists, and “Kaiser Permanente, immediately after diagnosing the patient’s infection, made repeated attempts to contact him to get him the treatment he needed.”
Kaiser said Chevalier also provided inaccurate contact information, and that the hospital enlisted the help of Clovis police to try to make contact with him.
Chevalier’s attorneys, however, said their client called Kaiser about the two appointments. Because he wasn’t a Kaiser member, he was told each appointment would cost $100 and that he couldn’t pay installments, Harralson and Chandler said.
Police couldn’t find Chevalier because he was living with a relative in Clovis who ended up losing her home, the attorneys said.
Kaiser could have found him, they said, because Chevalier had given Kaiser a copy of his driver’s license, which listed his mother’s address. Kaiser also had his mother’s cellphone number, but never called her, Harralson and Chandler said.
No one knows for sure how Chevalier got infected with the staph infection, Chandler said. He went to Kaiser’s emergency room on Jan. 29, 2009, after complaining of abdominal pain, had his appendix removed and was discharged five days later.
Chevalier returned to Kaiser the next day, still complaining of abdominal pain, but also with redness in his right arm. The redness is a sign of a possible infection, so Chevalier’s blood was drawn to be tested.
On Feb. 6, 2009, lab results were positive for MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a staph germ that can be fatal if left untreated.
Kaiser was required to notify Chevalier so he could get treatment, but never did, Chandler and Harralson said. Over the next few weeks, the infection led to a growth in Chevalier’s back that damaged his spine and spinal cord.
In early March 2009, Chevalier went to another hospital in pain. The hospital staff there discovered the staph infection and performed surgery, but it was too late to keep Chevalier from becoming a paraplegic.
Though he has lost the use of his legs and feet, Chevalier “still has enough sensation that he feels pain all the time,” Chandler said.
Fresno attorney David Moeck, who was not associated with the case, said Tuesday’s jury verdict “is a big deal.” In most medical malpractice cases, juries rule in favor of the medical professionals, he said.
Kaiser also is rarely sued, he said, because members sign a contract that compels them to settle their disputes through secret, out-of-court arbitration. Chevalier was not a member, so he was not bound by a Kaiser contract, Chandler said.
By Pablo Lopez