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July 2000 Vol. 15, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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$31 Million Verdict for Paralyzed Diver

from the July, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A paralyzed scuba diver won a $31.1 million malpractice verdict against a Pensacola hospital in a case that went to trial three times. The Associated Press reported that Baptist Hospital would appeal the jury verdict, the largest ever in Escambia County.

The award is more than three times the $7.88 million Keith Rawson, 45, initially won in 1995. Rawson suffered decompression sickness when he came up too quickly after a 1988 dive in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola. In the suit, he contended a decision by Baptist doctors to send him first to the emergency room rather than directly to a hyperbaric chamber caused his legs to be paralyzed. I thought of all the money Baptist has spent defending this three times now, and they could have used it for indigent care, Rawson said. I know what its like to be poor.

Rawson, a plumber before he was injured, said he has been existing on Social Security benefits. Hospital spokesperson Pam Bilbrey defended the hospitals refusal to settle the case, saying the doctors decisions and treatment saved Rawsons life. She contended that Rawson was so badly hurt he would have suffered paralysis regardless of when he went into the hyperbaric chamber.

The 1995 award was reversed on grounds attorney Fred Levin inflamed the jury by calling the hospitals defenses ridiculous and its doctors idiots. The second verdict in 1997 exonerated the hospital, but Circuit Judge Kim Skievaski ordered another retrial after admitting he had erred by allowing the late addition of a defense experts testimony.

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