Blind Man Sues Hospital, Gets $750,000

A blind man, who said his eyesight could have been saved if emergency room physicians had not delayed treatment, has received a $750,000 judgment in a lawsuit against a Pomona hospital.

"I thought my heart was going to jump out," said Walter Lee Johnson, 36, after the Pomona Superior Court jury's verdict was announced. Johnson's pupils were burned away in September, 1979, after acid was thrown in his face.

"What happens now? Back to school to try to get my Braille together," he said.

Johnson had testified during the trial that he had been left lying on a gurney as long as 20 minutes at Pomona Valley Community Hospital before his eyes were flushed with water, a treatment that his attorney claimed may have spared all or part of his eyesight if it had been given immediately.

"As I lay there I saw my eyesight leave my body," Johnson recalled after the trial. "The last color I remember seeing was like an eclipse of the moon--an orange, fiery color."

An attorney for the hospital had argued that Johnson's eyes were irreversibly damaged before he arrived in the emergency room and that no treatment could have prevented his blindness.

Both sides agreed that a woman threw a heated household cleaner containing acid in Johnson's face during an argument over money and that a friend drove Johnson to the hospital. But determining what happened after that point took up most of the four-week trial.

Members of the hospital staff gave conflicting accounts of when Johnson was treated and how long the procedure took. Medical experts gave widely differing opinions of the length of time the acid could have remained in the Pomona man's eyes without causing permanent damage.

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