Richland Hospital Wins $4 Million Verdict against La. Hospital

June 9, 2006

A southeast Washington hospital and its insurance carrier have won a $4.1 million verdict against a Louisiana hospital and two doctors who gave glowing recommendations for a colleague without disclosing his drug problem.

The doctor, an anesthesiologist, was involved in a 2002 surgery at Kadlec Medical Center here that left a woman severely brain-damaged.

According to court records, Dr. Robert Lee Berry had been diverting the narcotic Demerol from patients for his own use while working in Louisiana. Two of his partners and the administration at Lakeview Regional Medical Center in New Orleans knew of his drug problem, but failed to disclose it to officials at Kadlec Medical Center, the records indicated.

Instead, they offered “glowing letters of recommendation” for him to Kadlec, court records showed.

Kadlec Medical Center and Seattle-based Western Professional Insurance filed suit in U.S. District Court in Louisiana, alleging fraud and misrepresentation. They said they did not know of Berry’s drug problem or that he had been asked to leave the Louisiana practice because of it.

A jury awarded the Richland hospital and its insurance carrier $4.1 million on May 26. The two parties announced the verdict Tuesday.

Berry was the anesthesiologist during a 15-minute tubal ligation on Kimberly Jones following the birth of her third child. Jones had a heart attack during the procedure at Kadlec and suffered severe brain damage. She remains in a nursing home in Michigan, unable to care for herself.

According to court documents, Berry failed to monitor Jones properly, allowing her blood pressure to drop dangerously low, and removed her breathing tube while she was still paralyzed from sedatives.

In March, a Benton County Superior Court judge approved an $8.5 million settlement in a claim filed by Jones and her family against Berry and Kadlec Medical Center.

Kadlec officials learned of Berry’s drug problem during the first lawsuit. The latest verdict, which could still be appealed, likely means Kadlec and its insurer would pay less in damages in the lawsuit filed by Jones.

Kadlec spokesman Jim Hall said the tragedy would not have happened if there had been full disclosure about Berry’s drug problem.

“Had we known, we wouldn’t have hired him,” Hall said. “We told the family of Kim Jones we would pursue avenues to make sure this couldn’t happen again. This verdict reinforces to everyone in the health care community that withholding information that might compromise a patient’s safety is unacceptable.”

Berry surrendered his Washington medical license in 2004 after the state took action against him. He now lives in Louisiana but officials did not disclose his hometown.

Neither Berry nor Lakeview Regional Medical Center officials were immediately reachable for comment on the verdict.

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