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Record Sum Is Awarded in Malpractice Suit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury has ordered Simi Valley Hospital and one of its doctors to pay one of the largest medical malpractice awards in Ventura County history.

Glenn Fox of Simi Valley, who claimed inadequate care caused him to suffer partial paralysis, was awarded $4.7 million in damages Wednesday after a five-week trial in Ventura County Superior Court, according to his attorney, Arnold W. Schwartz.

After reductions required by state law, however, the sum will probably result in a payout of closer to $2 million, said attorney James Nichols, who represented defendant Dr. Ramana Rao.

Either way, attorneys called it one of the largest sums ever awarded in a medical malpractice suit in Ventura County.

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“Any time you get into this kind of money, it is showing the public’s outrage,” said Los Angeles attorney Steven Heimberg, who has filed numerous malpractice cases in Ventura. “There are not many verdicts in this range.”

Attorneys said Fox, 52, was hurt in a traffic accident on California 126 in March 1996. He was rushed by helicopter to Simi Valley Hospital where he was examined by numerous doctors, including Rao, an orthopedic surgeon.

Fox had a fractured vertebra and a broken femur, but he showed no signs at first of neurological problems in his legs, Schwartz said. Those symptoms began to appear the second day after leg surgery, however.

By the third day Fox could not move any of his toes. Rao apparently relied upon the earlier consultation, which showed no neurological damage, Schwartz said.

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Eventually “my client was left with lower leg weakness and incomplete paraplegia,” Schwartz said.

Fox, who has returned to work as a machine-shop manager, can walk about 100 feet, but he is exhausted afterward, his lawyer said. He also has bowel and urinary incontinence because of his spinal cord injury.

“They needed to get in and stabilize the fracture,” Schwartz said. “The failure to intervene surgically to reverse the swelling . . . left him with no chance. He’s permanently paralyzed.”

Nichols said he does not believe his patient committed medical malpractice. He says he believes Rao was caught in a “big net.”

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“He was one of several health care providers who was taking care of the patient,” Nichols said. “He was not the admitting physician, he was not the discharging physician, he was not the general surgeon . . . he was a well-qualified orthopedist, primarily called in to address a right femur fracture.”

After deliberating 13 days, jurors assigned 60% of the responsibility to Rao, 25% to the hospital and 15% to other doctors. Because those doctors were not named as defendants, however, damages will be divided proportionately between the hospital and Rao, Nichols said.

Lawyers for Simi Valley Hospital could not be reached Thursday. But hospital spokeswoman JoLynn de la Torre said, “We believe that the jury and the attorneys did their best to sort out a set of very complex medical issues. We continue to provide high-quality care to residents of Simi Valley.”


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