VA Settles Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Involving Death of Veteran for $1 Million

The Salt Lake Tribune

October 9, 2008 – The U.S. government has agreed to pay a former Lindon family nearly $1 million to settle a medical malpractice case.

William Meyer was being treated for leukemia at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City in 2004 when he developed a severe infection and died. His wife and daughter sued, claiming the hospital failed to give him antibiotics in time. He died of sepsis from a low white-blood-cell count.

Last month, the U.S. agreed to settle the nearly 2-year-old case for $950,000 to cover general damages and future lost income.

“It was just egregiously bad treatment,” said Clark Newhall, attorney for the Meyer family. “They didn’t administer [antibiotics] when they could have once, twice, three times. They [initially] told him to take Gas-X instead of go to the emergency room.”

The U.S. government maintains the hospital is not at fault.

“Obviously this was a very unfortunate case,” said Jeffrey Nelson, assistant U.S. attorney. “That isn’t to say that because there’s an unfortunate result that something was done wrong or negligently.”

Meyer, 45, was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2004 and received chemotherapy at the VA in October. Three days after his last treatment, he had diarrhea and abdominal pain. After calling the hospital to see what to do, his wife, Pamela Meyer, was told by an oncology fellow that Meyer should take an over-the-counter medicine for gas.

In reality, he needed antibiotics immediately to fight off a severe infection, according to plaintiff witnesses. His white blood cell count was low, due to the chemotherapy, which led to a bacterial infection in his colon.

“This is not situation that you can dance around and wait and don’t do anything about,” Michael Tirgan, a New York oncology doctor hired by Meyer’s family, said in a deposition. “Hours matter, minutes matter in a situation like this.”

Meyer received antibiotics about 10 hours after he was admitted to the emergency room, according to court documents.

“I believe he would still be here with me if they had acted correctly,” said Pamela Meyers, who hopes the VA has changed its practices because of her case.

Nelson said VA doctors and his experts testified that it wasn’t clear that Meyer needed antibiotics immediately or that they would have saved him.

The suit alleges that two doctors ordered antibiotics in the ER but that nurses failed to follow orders. Meyer was taken for a CT scan and admitted to an inpatient room, with the medication hanging on his gurney, waiting to be plugged into his IV.

He then collapsed and was admitted to intensive care and placed on a ventilator. He had gone into shock and suffered cardiac arrest.

A couple hours later, Pamela Meyer was told he was brain dead and she authorized the hospital to end life support.

Meyer died Oct. 15, 2004, four days before his 46th birthday and his 18th wedding anniversary. His leukemia was in remission and he was expected to live for at least another five years. The avid hunter’s ashes were scattered in the mountains.

Pamela Meyer has since moved to Wisconsin. She said she plans to carry out the couple’s plans to hunt moose and bag a grizzly bear in Alaska.

“He was my soulmate. I miss him terribly.”

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