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>October 02, 2002 - Mother, Son Awarded $20 Million

A mother and her 4-year-old son have been awarded $20 million by a federal court for the severe brain injuries the child suffered after a Greene County Hospital emergency room doctor misdiagnosed his meningitis.The chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Birmingham issued his decision Monday. In it, he "unhesitatingly" found enough evidence that Anand Pandey breached the standard of care for emergency room physicians.

Perry Austin Jr. was born a healthy baby on May 29, 1998, but on July 4, 1998, at five weeks of age, his temperature rose to 104-degrees, and he began grunting, according to court records.His mother, Tiffany Bennett, took him to GCH where Pandey examined him and gave a diagnosis of "probably viral fever," court records show. He sent Austin home, telling Bennett to give him Tylenol and sponge baths. Five hours later his condition had not improved so Bennett went back to GCH for help, according to court records. Pandey again examined Austin, diagnosed him with dyspepsia (indigestion), and sent him home an hour and 10 minutes later. But Austin's condition worsened on the way home, and Bennett rushed him to DCH Regional Medical Center, records show. There the ER physicians did a spinal puncture and diagnosed "Group B Strep meningitis and sepsis," according to court records.

The misdiagnosis left Austin with impaired hearing, vision and speech, Clemon wrote. He bites, scratches and hits himself, wears diapers, cannot walk, crawl or eat solid foods and has seizures."[Austin] will suffer severe damages for the rest of his life as confirmed by the report of United States' expert Dr. Elias G. Chalub," Clemon wrote.

More than $12 million of the verdict is to be put into a trust for Austin's future medical expenses, earnings, pain and suffering, disability, and mental anguish. He is expected to live another 63 years. About $3.1 million will cover past expenses, pain and disfigurement. About $5 million will go for attorney's fees.

Whether the verdict will be overturned on appeal or reduced in a post-verdict settlement remains to be seen.Large verdicts are often reduced in post-verdict settlement negotiations, said Michael Boyle, the assistant public relations director at the Montgomery law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles.

Boyle said plaintiffs often agree to take less if the defendant agrees not to appeal. With federal verdicts, however, Boyle said a settlement is less likely because federal courts of appeals tend to uphold verdicts."That's not to say that they won't go back and do a post-verdict settlement," Boyle said, "but I'd say it's less likely than in state court."

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