Nearly $3M Awarded in Missouri Malpractice Case

April 9, 2014

A Missouri family hopes a nearly $3 million jury reward in a medical malpractice case against a Kansas doctor and pain clinic will raise awareness of the risks and possible complications from pain injections.

Joel Burnette was 40 when he took his own life in Feburary 2013. His parents claim serious spinal injuries caused by a careless doctor at PainCARE in Overland Park, Kan., led to his suicide.

Last month a Johnson County, Kan., jury awarded Vernon and Gail Burnette of Gladstone, Mo., $2.88 million, the biggest malpractice award in that county in more than a quarter century, The Kansas City Star reported. But Kansas law caps non-economic damages at $250,000, meaning the award can’t be higher than about $1.67 million.

Bruce Keplinger, an attorney for the doctor, Kimber Eubanks, and PainCARE, said the verdict would be appealed because it was Burnette’s history of psychiatric issues – not his medical condition – that led to his suicide.

Burnette, of Gladstone, suffered chronic lower back pain that eventually took him to the Overland Park clinic operated by Eubanks and a second physician, Daniel Bruning.

Bruning injected medication into Burnette’s back in May 2008 and again that December. The second round of shots failed to stop the pain, so Burnette went back to PainCARE on Jan. 5, 2009, and was treated by Eubanks because Bruner was on vacation.

An epidural steroid injection in his lower back didn’t relieve Burnette’s pain, but soon a lump started to appear where the needle had gone in. His girlfriend at the time, Ellen Short, said he complained that the lump hurt but was told by the clinic that it was normal to have some swelling at the injection site.

Burnette went back to the clinic on Jan. 13, 2009, for a second injection from Eubanks. In a deposition he gave in the lawsuit, filed before he died and continued by his parents, he said he told a nurse about the lump, but she responded after checking that a doctor said it was no problem.

On Jan. 21, 2009, Short found Burnette disoriented in his apartment and took him to a hospital emergency room. He was diagnosed with meningitis caused by antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria and told he probably would die or be paralyzed. Instead, he pulled through after about 10 days.

But the infection left Burnette with damaged and chronically inflamed spinal nerves that left him impotent and without control of his bladder or bowels. He had trouble walking and was in constant pain.

Burnette took his life before his case could be heard in court. His parents said he had a history of bipolar disorder and in the past had admitted himself to psychiatric hospitals for treatment of depression. But in recent years, those issues had been under control, his parents said.

They said they took up the lawsuit against PainCARE and Eubanks to raise public awareness about the risks of complications from pain injections.

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