By Ken Kobayashi
HONOLULU – In what is believed to be the largest judgment of its kind, the federal government was assessed $2.4 million yesterday for medical malpractice that left a woman a quadriplegic with severe brain damage.
Federal Judge Samuel P. King issued the judgment in favor of Duncan Campbell, husband and guardian of Carolyn Louise Campbell, 35, who requires total care as a result of the irreversible brain damage.
Mrs. Campbell’s brain damage occurred at Tripler Hospital in 1978 after she suffered a heart attack and batteries for a crucial device couldn’t be found.
The flashlight device known as a laryngoscope is necessary to provide light to enable a tube to be inserted down the throat to clear the air passages. But the laryngoscope for Mrs. Campbell didn’t have any batteries and there were no such batteries on the ward.
According to the Campbells’ attorney, Mark Davis, a corpsman had to be sent to the operating room on a different floor to find a functioning laryngoscope. It was during that time that Mrs. Campbell suffered brain damage from the lack of oxygen to her brain, according to Davis.
She was “close to death,” Davis said, when she was finally revived, but the damage was so severe that she was in a coma for more than two months.
At one point, the federal government tried to enforce a $330,000 settlement that Duncan Campbell had signed. However, visiting federal Judge James Battin last year ruled that there had been “grievous and fundamental misrepresentations and concealments” on the government’s part.
He ruled that the government was liable for Mrs. Campbell’s brain damage.
Judge King then held seven days of trial in December, February and March to determine the amount the government had to pay. King watched an oftentimes excruciating 16-minute videotape of a day in Mrs. Campbell’s life.
The tape showed her wailing and groaning.
“This is a woman who is in a perpetual state of devastation,”
Davis said yesterday.
In his eight-page written opinion, King described Mrs. Campbell was requiring total care for feeding, toileting and grooming. He also said she sometimes responds appropriately to certain questions and has articulated a few specific likes and dislikes, such as ice cream flavors and colors.
King said the evidence and the testimony by the experts were mixed on whether Mrs. Campbell was aware of her plight. “While her cognitive abilities have been severely reduced, she nevertheless has suffered an extremely physical, intellectual and emotional insult,” he said.
“Her agony is real although her capacity for perceiving it is diminished.”
Davis and co-counsel Stanley Levin sought about $6 million for the Campbells, while the government suggested about $1 million.
King’s award, Davis said, is the highest ever against the federal government in the medical malpractice case.
A mother of four, Mrs. Campbell originally went to Tripler for a gall bladder operation and a second one to clear up complications. She was still at the hospital when she suffered the heart attack.
Mrs. Campbell is now at a skilled nursing facility in San Diego.
Davis said Mr. Campbell, a Navy recruiter, was “very pleased” when notified of the ruling. “This has been an enormous ordeal for him the past four years,” the attorney said.
“He looks forward to the day when it can be over. I think he just wants to put this stage of his life behind him.”