Teen Who Lost All Four Limbs Due to a Medication Error Wins $12 Million Jury Verdict

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Shaniah Rolle needed surgery for some serious intestinal problems. In 1998, doctors at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine had to remove the young girl’s spleen and several other organs. This addressed her intestinal problems but compromised her ability to fight off infections. The spleen acts as a filter to screen out bacteria and viruses, so without it she needed medication to prevent illness.

Her mother took her to the hospital’s pediatrics unit for a follow-up appointment in October 1998. A medical assistant administered an injection of a vaccine specifically designed to help people without spleens avoid infection. The assistant did not realize, apparently, that the vaccine was about five months out of date. As such, the vaccine was not medically effective.

Rolle’s mother rushed her to a different hospital eight months later when she fell seriously ill. She had developed a MRSA infection (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that the vaccine should have prevented. By the time she got treatment, she had blot clots in all four limbs, and the extremities had become gangrenous. Doctors had no choice but to amputate her arms and legs above the joints.

Rolle’s mother filed suit against the medical school and several of the physicians who treated her, alleging that they were negligent in failing to provide an effective vaccine to guard against infection. The case went to trial in late 2011. After a five-week trial, the jury deliberated for three days before reaching a verdict finding mostly for the plaintiff.

The jury found the hospital and at least one of the doctors liable for Rolle’s injuries and awarded $12.6 million in damages. They also found, however, that Rolle’s mother was partly at fault for her injuries. Defense lawyers argued at trial that Rolle would have gotten sick whether she had the vaccine or not because her mother did not properly administer her medication. The jury concluded that the mother was forty percent responsible for her daughter’s injuries for failing to give her enough medicine to enable her to fight off the infection. This means that Rolle cannot collect the entire amount of the award, but rather sixty percent of it, or $7.56 million. Any recovery may be delayed, as the hospital is expected to file an appeal.

To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care and breached that duty in a way that caused them harm, and that they have measurable damages. A defendant may seek to show that the plaintiff, or someone acting on behalf of the plaintiff, was entirely or partly responsible for the plaintiff’s damages. This is known as comparative negligence. A defendant must show that another party, though not necessarily a party to the lawsuit, was also negligent. This can reduce the total amount of damages owed by the defendant or offset liability entirely. In this instance, the jury found that both the hospital and the mother had some responsibility, and they reduced the damages owed by the hospital accordingly.

People who have suffered injury due to a medication error in a pharmacy or hospital may be entitled to compensation for their damages. For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Kansas City pharmacy error lawyer, contact Doug Horn at Horn Law today through our website or at (816) 795-7500.