On May 23, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (“federal court”) awarded the total sum of $4,377,438 to a young man who suffered permanent kidney damage that will require kidney transplants in the future due to the medical negligence of various doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (“Walter Reed”) who failed to provide him with proper medical care. The federal court stated in its Memorandum Opinion, “Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court awards $3,182,575 in future medical expenses, $484,863 in lost earnings, and $710,000 in emotional distress, for a total award of $4,377,438.”
The plaintiff had filed his federal medical malpractice case against the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The plaintiff had been diagnosed when he was nineteen years old with Crohn’s disease by physicians at the Pediatric Gastroentology Division of Walter Reed (the plaintiff was eligible to receive medical care in the military system through his father, who was in the military). On May 26, 2011, one of the military physicians prescribed Pentasa to treat the plaintiff’s symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
One of the known side effects of Pentasa is acute interstitial nephritis (“AIN”). AIN is a condition where the interstitium in the kidney are inflamed, preventing the kidney from functioning properly. While on Pentasa, patients receive blood tests (metabolic panels) to monitor kidney function that measure levels of creatinine (a waste product produced by muscle), blood urea nitrogen (“BUN”), and the glomerular filtration rate (“GFR”).
On May 23, 2011 (three days before the plaintiff was prescribed Pentasa), the plaintiff’s creatinine was 0.9, which is within the normal range of 0.7 to 1.3. On October 11, 2011, the metabolic panels showed elevated creatinine of 1.1 and elevated BUN levels, although both remained within the normal levels.
On October 12, 2012, the metabolic panels showed elevated creatinine level of 1.6 along with abnormal BUN and GFR levels. The plaintiff was not notified that his blood tests created any cause for concern about the functioning of his kidneys, and his health care providers did not take any further steps to treat his kidney dysfunction or to warn him that the elevated creatinine may be due to Pentasa.
The plaintiff’s gastroenterologist increased the Pentasa on November 20, 2012 following a colonoscopy, to better control the plaintiff’s Crohn’s disease.
On March 11, 2013, the plaintiff had his annual physical at Walter Reed. The physician noted the elevated creatinine level from the plaintiff’s October 2012 labs, and although he did not discontinue Pentasa, he did order repeat blood tests that showed a creatinine level of 3.3, which indicated significantly compromised kidney function. However, the physician did not review these results until April 3, 2013. Thereafter, an emergency meeting was scheduled with the plaintiff to repeat his labs and to obtain a nephrology referral.
On April 5, 2013, the plaintiff met with a Walter Reed nephrologist who ordered repeat labs which showed a dangerously high creatinine level of 4.1. As a result, the nephrologist diagnosed the plaintiff with Pentasa-induced Acute Interstitial Nephritis and discontinued the Pentasa regimen.
On May 23, 2013, the plaintiff was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (“CKD”).
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed his federal medical malpractice lawsuit pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, which does not provide the right to a jury trial.
Following trial, the federal judge stated in her Memorandum Opinion that Pentasa is a widely used drug that treats symptoms associated with mild to moderate Crohn’s disease. A rare but well known side-effect of Pentasa is that for some patients it acts as a nephrotoxin, causing kidney injury, specifically acute interstitial nephritis or AIN. If left untreated, the AIN can become chronic interstitial nephritis. The adverse kidney function associated with Pentasa-induced interstitial nephritis manifests itself, among other ways, in elevated creatinine levels.
The federal judge stated that the plaintiff’s creatinine level was within the normal range as of May 2011, prior to starting Pentasa. After the plaintiff began taking Pentasa, his creatinine levels rose well above normal and went undetected for nearly two years, and the Walter Reed treating physicians did not take him off of Pentasa until his creatinine levels had risen to more than quadruple his pre-Pentasa baseline.
The federal judge stated that the plaintiff now suffers from chronic kidney disease which will progressively worsen, and that it is undisputed that the plaintiff will likely need three kidney transplants over the course of his life, and that “his overall life expectancy, tragically, has been cut by ten years.”
The federal judge held: “The Court finds that the Government’s failure to warn [the plaintiff] of the potential side effects of Pentasa after his elevated creatinine levels in October 2012 and Government’s failure to stop the prescription in October 2012, was a direct and proximate cause of [his] kidney injury … this is one of the clearest cases of causation that can be imagined, and so [the plaintiff] has sustained his burden of demonstrating that Pentasa caused his chronic kidney disease — one which is catastrophic and permanent.”
The federal judge awarded the plaintiff the maximum amount for his emotional damages under the cap on noneconomic damages in Maryland medical malpractice claims: “For good reason, awarding the maximum allowable amount for [the plaintiff’s] pain and suffering is undisputed. [The plaintiff’s] deep distress is palpable. He is a young man that by all accounts has done everything right. He has maintained his health and fitness, and has been dealt the consummate raw deal. [The plaintiff] is emotionally wrought at the dim prospects of finding a life partner, and raising children, full knowing that his life will be a roller coaster of heath care crises as his kidney function declines. [The plaintiff] testified genuinely and with great feeling about wishing not to burden a future spouse or children with his mounting healthcare needs. [The plaintiff] also recognizes that many of his personal life joys will eclipsed by his kidney disease. [The plaintiff] loves to travel. He has family abroad and a zest to visit them. Undoubtedly his travel will be compromised and at some point stopped altogether as he faces the arduous dialysis process — three times a week, six hours a day — and kidney transplant surgery, likely not once, not twice, but if lucky three times in his life. The Court awards $710,000 for his pain and suffering.”
Harmon v. United States of America, Case 8:15-cv-02611-PX.
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in Maryland, you should promptly find a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a Maryland medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in Maryland who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.