KY Widow Settles Lawsuit Against VA for $975,000

Associated Press

November 29, 2008, East St. Louis, IL – A widow whose husband died at a Veterans Affairs hospital under fire for substandard care has agreed to settle her lawsuit against the government for $975,000, her attorney said.

Katrina Shank had sought $12 million in her federal wrongful-death lawsuit. Her husband, 50-year-old Robert Shank III of Murray, Ky., bled to death in August 2007, a day after undergoing gallbladder surgery at the VA hospital in Marion, Ill.

Shank’s widow claimed the government failed to sufficiently check the background of her husband’s surgeon, Dr. Jose Veizaga-Mendez, before hiring him in January 2006.

Veizaga-Mendez resigned three days after Robert Shank’s death, and major surgeries were ordered halted there after inspectors attributed several patient deaths to questionable surgical care.

Terms involving Katrina Shank’s settlement were not disclosed in court documents, but one of her attorneys, Stan Heller, put the amount at $975,000. He said the sum amounts to an admission of responsibility, because “the government doesn’t toss money like that around easily.”

A VA spokesman, Paul Sherbo, said only that “the VA has no information to offer on this case, pending a review by the court.” According to the order by U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert, the settlement becomes final after 90 days unless it hits a snag.

The VA found at least nine deaths between October 2006 and March 2007 were “directly attributable” to substandard care at the hospital. Those deaths did not include Robert Shank, who died months later.

The VA’s findings do not put the sole blame on Veizaga-Mendez, but Shank’s lawsuit said many or all of those who died were his patients.

At least one other lawsuit involving care by Veizaga-Mendez at the hospital is pending. James Marshall, 61, of Benton, Ky., died of a blood infection in July 2007, six days after Veizaga-Mendez performed a lymph node biopsy. His widow, Darla Marshall, is seeking $10 million in damages.

Veizaga-Mendez, who is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuits, has no listed telephone number and has not responded to repeated messages left by the AP at a Massachusetts home listed as an address for his wife.

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