Missoula Veteran Wins Malpractice Suit Against VA Hospital

April 14, 2008

A Missoula Navy veteran has been awarded $622,739 after winning a medical malpractice lawsuit against a Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City, where a series of failed operations left him permanently disabled.

James L. Lamb, 69, filed the lawsuit last year, alleging that doctors botched a hernia operation by mistakenly severing an artery in his stomach. Lamb nearly died of severe bleeding and was hospitalized for four months at VA hospitals in Salt Lake City and Helena.

District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula awarded Lamb the full $1.2 million in damages April 4. But according to Utah medical malpractice law, non-economic damages — those for pain, suffering, and inconvenience — may not exceed $430,000. Molloy then awarded economic losses — those for loss of household production and medical bills — in the amount of $192,739.

“This man is a veteran and a proud Montanan, and he was determined to have his day in court,” Lamb’s attorney, David Paoli, said. “As a citizen, it is important to him that justice was served, and that’s an important thing for regular people to see in their justice system.”

In December 2004, Lamb went to Salt Lake City for an abdominal operation that was supposed to keep him hospitalized overnight. Instead, he and his wife remained at the hospital for more than six weeks because of recovery complications. He was operated on five more times at the hospital.

Lamb eventually requested a transfer to Fort Harrison VA hospital in Helena, where he stayed until March 2005 for skin grafting of a large, non-healing abdominal wound.

He was hospitalized again in November 2007 for a small-bowel obstruction and two months later was admitted to a VA Hospital in eastern Colorado, where doctors told him that surgery was too risky to solve the problem.

Molloy, in a findings of fact brief, said Lamb has several permanent injuries and now must wear an abdominal binder to contain his organs.

Lamb brought the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act and was awarded the money following a one-day bench trial.

Souce: Missoulian.

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