Appeals court upholds jury decision in New London overdose malpractice case
The state Appellate Court has affirmed a New London Superior Court jury's decision to award $512,000 to the survivors of Jill Procaccini, a 32-year-old woman who died of a methadone overdose in 2008 within hours of being treated for an overdose and released from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Appellate Judges Eliot D. Prescott, Raheem L. Mullins and Robert E. Beach Jr. heard arguments in Procaccini vs. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in March at the University of Connecticut.
The panel was unanimous in its decision in favor of Procaccini's estate, according to an opinion written by Mullins that was released Friday.
The judges concurred that the New London jury could have reasonably credited expert testimony indicating that Procaccini could have experienced a phenomenon called delayed recurring respiratory depression when she overdosed hours after she had been revived with the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone and released from the hospital. Police had found no evidence of illegal drugs at Procaccini's residence after the overdose.
The judges also concluded that a $150,000 portion of the award for Procaccini's loss of capacity to carry on and enjoy life's activities was not unreasonable or speculative since the jury had heard testimony that she enjoyed traveling and spending time with her niece and nephew.
Attorney Matthew E. Auger of the Suisman Shapiro law firm said Friday afternoon that he was thrilled with the decision and had spoken with Procaccini's father.
"They (the hospital) didn't do their job, and as a consequence, Jill died," Auger said by telephone. "That shouldn't have happened. I've been doing this since 1984. It's rare that you take a case nobody else wants and bring it to completion and justice prevails. She deserved to have her day in court. She got her day in court, she won and they wanted to take it away from her, and they didn't."
Procaccini, of West Hartford, who struggled for years with cocaine and heroin addiction, overdosed at a friend's home in New London on Nov. 28, 2008, according to court records. New London firefighters and hospital paramedics found her near death about 7 p.m. and revived her with Narcan, the antidote to an opioid overdose. She was taken to L+M, where she admitted using methadone. She was monitored in the emergency room and released at 11:45 p.m. The hospital tested her urine, which was positive for both heroin and methadone.
Anxious to leave the hospital, Procaccini was able to walk out on her own and return home with her friend, Charles Hope. Sober himself for several years at that point and trying to help Procaccini get straight, Hope had testified at the trial that she seemed fine when he left her in a guest bedroom, watching TV, and went to sleep at 1:30 a.m. She was dead, in the same position in which Hope had last seen her, when he checked on her about 10:30 the next morning. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death was methadone toxicity.
Attorney Daniel J. Krisch of the Halloran & Sage Law firm, representing the L+M doctors, argued that Procaccini's estate had not proved the doctor who treated her caused her death by failing to admit her to the hospital for 24 hours. Though the effect of Narcan, or naloxone, wears off after 90 minutes, Procaccini had been in the hospital for three hours after receiving the antidote, and her medical record showed her vital signs had improved, Krisch said.
Auger argued that he had elicited testimony at the trial from Dr. Eric Schwam, an expert on the standard of care, who said the hospital's failure to admit Procaccini for 24 hours after detecting a methadone overdose was a deviation from the standard of care.
Krisch argued the plaintiffs failed to present evidence about Procaccini's life expectancy, which is the normal procedure in a wrongful death lawsuit. Auger said Friday that he had decided not to introduce mortality tables since it could have opened the door for the defendant to introduce "in inappropriate detail" Procaccini's drug history. He said the jury had enough information to reach a verdict, having heard testimony from the medical examiner who testified that Procaccini was in excellent health.
"My hope, and Mr. Procaccini's hope, is that as a result of this case they will change the way they practice medicine so that other similarly situated people won't receive the same lack of care that she did," Auger said.
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