Verdict in Malpractice Lawsuit Over Failure to Diagnose Brain Infection Upheld

A California appeals court has upheld a $9 million verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit won by a woman whose doctor failed to detect an infection caused by a shunt in her brain. 

The California Court of Appeals issued a ruling earlier this month affirming a jury’s decision that Dr. Harley Deere, of CareMore Medical Group, was negligent in his care of Maria Theresa Sanchez, who suffered brain damage after the doctor’s failure to diagnose a brain infection.

Sanchez has had hydrocephalus since she was a child and has a peritoneal shunt implanted in her head to drain fluid from her brain. However, she was considered highly functional and could care for herself and work. She was a patient of CareMore under her healthcare plan.

In December 2003, Sanchez, 37 at the time, was taken to a CareMore facility by her sister, but was just given Tylenol. Days later, her symptoms were worse and her sister took her to Downey Regional Medical Center’s emergency room where a doctor determined that an infection of the shunt needed to be ruled out because it was a worst-case-scenario and she was transferred to Lakewood Regional Hospital, where a CareMore doctor, Dr. Jason Austin, looked at her and decided to consult with Dr. Deere, a neurosurgical consultant.

Dr. Deere used Dr. Austin’s notes, but Dr. Austin did not include Sanchez’s symptoms, nor did he note that she had been transferred to Lakewood in order to rule out an infected shunt. According to the complaint, Dr. Deere failed to look at any of the other records from other doctors who had seen Sanchez and never tested for an infection of Sanchez’s shunt, leaving for vacation shortly after Sanchez was admitted.

Sanchez’s condition worsened over the following weeks, and another non-CareMore physician expressed concerns about an infection as well, but was rebuffed by Dr. Deere and another CareMore doctor, the lawsuit alleged. CareMore refused to admit her to the emergency room until she fell out of her wheelchair in front of staff members. Another doctor finally diagnosed Sanchez as having a brain infection and removed the infected shunt. However, as a result of the failure to diagnose the brain infection earlier, Sanchez is now partially paralyzed, has trouble sitting, cannot walk, has slurred speech, is in constant pain and must be fed by others.

A California jury determined that Deere was the doctor whose negligence led to Sanchez’s injuries, making CareMore responsible, since Deere was an agent of the company. They awarded Sanchez $9 million and CareMore appealed the verdict after failing to get a new trial. In a decision filed earlier this month, the Second District Court of Appeals in California rejected all of CareMore’s grounds for appeal.

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