Laurence Hammack wrote an interesting article in the October 11, 2015 edition of the Roanoke Times titled, “Pattern of settling lawsuits against Roanoke-area hospitals makes them hard to find.” The article addressed the practice by Carilion, with the approval of the involved attorneys and parties, of dismissing (or “nonsuiting” which will be explained below) wrongful death cases filed in Roanoke City and approved in outlying (and less media scrutinized) communities. One of my client’s cases was reported in the article and I want to share my client’s and my firm’s position on this issue.
My client, George Edward Tyler, awoke in August of 2012 to a throbbing headache and sharp, stabbing pains above his eyes. He took a Tylenol and tried to rest. A few hours later his wife found him lying in bed at their Botetourt County home, “ghostly white and incoherent.”By the end of the day, Tyler was dead. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the family blamed his cardiologist, who had put him on a blood thinner called Coumadin for heart problems, and his family doctor who later prescribed him Bactrim DS for a urinary tract infection. The two drugs can be dangerous when taken together and can result in a patient being over anti-coagulated (in other words the blood becomes too thin increasing the potential for unintended bleeding).
The case was vigorously defended by the doctors who asserted they had done nothing wrong. However, after months of depositions and the involvement of medical experts, the parties decided to “settle” the case. The parties agreed to “nonsuit” the case in Roanoke City and file a petition requesting court approval in Patrick County. Virginia law requires all wrongful death cases, like this case, be approved by a court. The law is designed to safeguard the process and make certain that both sides have reached a fair and agreeable resolution of their dispute. I cannot comment further on the case or the settlement due to a confidentiality agreement signed by both parties.
I understand why Laurence Hammack and the Roanoke Times want to know not only the details of my case but the details of all cases filed in Roanoke City, especially cases involving a claim of wrongful death against the region’s largest health care provider and employer. Understandably, Carilion is not keen on disclosing this information as it is not good for business. But the issue is not all one-sided. My clients have a right to privacy. Families may not want details of their case reported in the local newspaper. They may not want their neighbors, friends, and co-workers to know of a large financial settlement.
Each case is different and different parties have different goals they wish to achieve. If either side of a medical malpractice suit doesn’t want a settlement to be confidential, they don’t have to agree to keep the details out of the press.