A national law firm with ties to North Carolina has helped win a $383.5 million verdict in three wrongful death cases against a dialysis company accused of giving the patients a treatment without consulting with their doctors.
The plaintiffs alleged that DaVita gave the three patients an acid concentrate called GranuFlo without telling them or their doctors about the possibility that the drug could affect the acid-base balance in their bodies and trigger cardiac arrest.
On June 27, a jury in the U.S. District Court in Colorado awarded the plaintiffs a total of $8.5 million in compensatory damages, and $375 million in punitive damages.
“Plaintiffs lost their loved ones as a result of DaVita’s failure to follow basic safety practices,” said Hillsborough attorney Stuart Paynter, who splits his time between his hometown and Washington D.C. “The jury sent a clear message that such misconduct will not be tolerated.”
According to Paynter, GranuFlo’s manufacturer told DaVita to be careful to consult with nephrologists (doctors who specializes in kidney care) when administering the product because it can lead to patients having too much bicarbonate in their bodies, which causes a high risk of cardiac arrest and death.
He said that’s what happened to Christopher Menchaca, Sherri Saldana and Frankquin Hardin, whose families brought the consolidated suits. To make matters worse, Paynter said, doctors were often left in the dark about whether or not the product was being used.
“If they had told doctors, ‘We’ll be using these products, and by the way, we won’t record it in your patients’ medical records,’ the doctors would’ve rebelled,” he said.
In the end, Paynter said he believed the reason the jury sided with his clients was that the defense didn’t have a good explanation for why they didn’t tell doctors and patients what they were doing.
“They didn’t have a persuasive story about why they ignored what the manufacturer told them to do,” he said. “They were citing some junk science as a justification … but they didn’t have an explanation for why they didn’t inform doctors.”
Paynter said that he feels the large verdict was fair.
“[With] any large punitive damage reward, there’s a chance it will be reduced,” he said. “But if you look at the case law for cases with this type of conduct, this type of case gets the highest multiplier. Personally, I think it’s within the range.”
DaVita said in a news release after the verdict that GranuFlo is an FDA-approved product that’s been in use for over 25 years and is safe and effective.
“The issue raised regarding its alleged negative clinical side effects have been debunked and nephrologists use it daily for their patients,” a company representative said in the release. “The plaintiffs in this case did not even claim the product itself was dangerous.”
DaVita said in the statement that they will pursue all avenues of appeal, and according to Paynter, they have already begun filing post-trial motions.
“Multiple grounds exist to eliminate, or significantly reduce, the damages award so as to eliminate any material financial responsibility,” the company said. “The punitive damage awards for each of the three plaintiffs dramatically exceeds the limits imposed … by the United States Supreme Court, relative to the size of the compensatory damage awards.”
Attorneys representing the company could not be reached for comment.
Follow Matthew Chaney on Twitter @NCLWChaney
VERDICT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATHS
Amount: $383.5 million
Injuries alleged: Wrongful deaths
Case name: Christopher Menchaca v. DaVita, Inc.; Sherri Saldana v. DaVita, Inc. consolidated with Frankquin Hardin v. DaVita, Inc.
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
Case No.: 1:15-cv-02106
Date of verdict: June 27
Special damages: $8.5 million in compensatory damages, $375 million in punitive damages
Most helpful experts: George Samaras, biomedical scientist and former associate director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Attorneys for plaintiffs: Stuart Paynter, Jennifer Murray, Celeste Boyd and Sara Willingham of the Paynter Law Firm in Hillsborough; and Robert Carey, Molly Booker, Craig Valentine and Tory Beardsley of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro
Attorneys for defendants: Kayla Byers, Michael Hazel, Matthew Worthington and John Walsh of WilmerHale in Denver; and Michael Prangle, Richard DeJong, Jacqueline Sharuzi-Brown and Jonquil Whitehead of Hall Prangle & Schoonveld in Chicago