A Philadelphia jury awarded over $25 million in a malpractice suit against Temple University Hospital
Temple called this award “excessive” and intends to appeal for a lowered amount.
Some states have caps on non-economic damages in malpractice cases, but these are controversial.
This past May, a Philadelphia jury awarded $25.9 million to Eddie Parks in a case against Temple University Hospital. Parks filed suit against the Philadelphia hospital in 2019 after a 2018 emergency room visit for an injury to his right leg resulted in a 39-day stay and eventual lower-limb amputation. Parks, 27 at the time of his initial injury, sought care after being kicked in his right leg. His suit claims that doctors at Temple did not promptly diagnose or appropriately treat his resulting knee dislocation and popliteal artery injury. By the time of Parks’ discharge from Temple University Hospital, he’d had several operations on his leg, including a below-the-knee amputation.
Temple University Hospital and Parks’ primary orthopedic surgeon were named in the suit. Both parties have denied responsibility for Parks’ injuries, and, in 2019, failed to make what Park’s legal team considered to be an adequate settlement offer. Temple’s statement claims that multiple factors contributed to the totality of Park’s injuries, including Parks’ own delay in seeking care. After a five-day trial, the jury ruled in favor of Parks and awarded him $20 million for non-economic losses and another $5.9 million for future medical expenses.
Parks and his legal team have filed a motion to add another $3.7 million to the final amount. The motion claims that because Temple failed to offer an adequate settlement in 2019, Parks is entitled to years of interest on his award amount. Temple, in response, claims that the jury award is already excessive. They further claim that errors were made during the trial and have stated they will appeal those errors and ask the jury to reduce the settlement amount.
The May 9th verdict came weeks after another Eastern Pennsylvania malpractice resulted in a massive jury award. On April 26, 2023, a jury awarded $182.7 million, the largest single-plaintiff award in Pennsylvania history, in a case against Penn Medicine. A spokesperson for Temple Health System stated that these high-award cases are part of a trend that could be damaging for the healthcare in the region and for institutions like Temple University Hospital that act as “a safety net hospital providing care to the neediest in our community.”
The impact of high jury awards
Award amounts in malpractice cases are meant to compensate patients, or their families, for harm, including medical costs, lost income, and other damages. In large and high-profile cases, they are sometimes also used to advocate for patient safety. However, Temple University Health System isn’t the only institution to raise concerns about high jury awards in recent years.
Earlier this year, a Detroit malpractice case against Epic Primary Care resulted in a $3.7 million award to the plaintiff. Like Temple University Health System, the defendant called the award and some of the specific fees “outrageous.” He claimed the amounts could prevent him from operating some locations of Epic Primary Care, ultimately causing harm to many patients by creating an award to one. Like Temple University Hospital, Epic Primary Care locations are primarily in urban, historically underserved communities.
Kartikya Ahuja, MD, a cardiologist in New York, agrees, noting that high-dollar cases can have an extra impact on facilities that serve specific areas.
“The impact of high jury awards on healthcare providers, particularly those who serve limited-income communities, can be significant, “says Dr. Ahuja. When a jury awards a high amount these cases, the provider may be unable to continue operating effectively, leading to a decrease in the quality of care available to the community and an overall decrease in the number of providers available to serve the community.”
In response to these and other concerns from institutions and healthcare industry advocacy groups, some states have set hard caps on the award amounts for non-economic damages. For instance, in Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Texas, and Iowa, there are hard limits for non-economic limits. Exact limits depend on the state and on factors such as if the case is against a physician, private institution, or hospital, but generally range between $500,000 and $2 million.
A cap on non-economic damages would’ve brought the award in the Parks’ case down to a maximum of $7.9 million. This could alleviate worries about suits damaging the ability of facilities to deliver patient care to communities, but caps are controversial. Opponents argue that large award verdicts are rare and that preventing them hurts families who genuinely need those high-dollar amounts following medical injury.
The average amount paid on claims is $242,000, which has remained stable. However, the unpredictability of suits and their costs, including the potential of significant jury awards, can be stressful and concerning, no matter the odds.