A Spencer resident and nationally acclaimed bear trainer, Jeff Watson, is holding a rally on Sunday, December 11 in front of the Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital because of what he calls unanswered questions regarding his wife’s death.
Leanne Watson died in the Bloomington Hospital emergency room three years ago. Now, her husband drives around Bloomington with a billboard mounted on the back of his truck. He says the sign and the rally are both meant to raise awareness because the hospital refuses to address his concerns.
“I may be considered a little bit of an eccentric or oddball because I have a sign in the back of my truck stating that my wife died begging for air in the Bloomington Hospital,” Watson says. “But, you work with what you have to work with.”
According to her medical records, Leanne Watson suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, as well as asthma. The E.R. records show Leanne arrived via ambulance with her chief complaint being she was unable to breathe. Jeff Watson says the doctor incorrectly diagnosed anxiety and directed the administration of the drug Ativan. Leanne passed away only moments after the shot was administered.
“You have to be careful with Ativan. You have to be careful giving it to somebody who has compromised respiratory function,” Jeff Watson says. “You have to be careful giving it to somebody who is on drugs that suppress the central nervous system. They knew she was on drugs that suppress the central nervous system. They knew she was on drugs for someone with a compromised respiratory function, but they gave it to her anyway.”
Following Leanne’s death, the hospital ordered two separate autopsies and two different conclusions were drawn. Neither report, however, lists Ativan as the cause of death.
Watson went on to settle with the Bloomington Hospital and says he now regrets it. He says he knew very little about Indiana malpractice laws when he settled and that many details about his wife’s treatment have come to light since he took the money.
“They’re plenty of things you can do to get your pound of flesh,” Watson says. “They’re plenty of things you can do to try to get some vindication. Most of them aren’t legal. The only legal remedy you have in the state of Indiana in a medical malpractice case is to sue the health care provider and get a judgment.”
Indiana’s Malpractice Laws
In Indiana, the most a malpractice defendant can be liable for is $250 thousand dollars, which, in some cases, can then be supplemented by a panel that can award up to $1 million dollars from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which is essentially a reinsurance fund that health care providers pay into for occasions such as this.
Fred Schultz, a medical malpractice plaintiff lawyer with Greene and Schultz in Bloomington says Indiana’s malpractice laws harm legitimate claims.
“What that means is that no matter how much the medical expenses are, no matter what the lost wages are, no matter how – what the loss is to the family – that, no matter if a jury awards $10 million or $50 million the verdict is reduced to the statutory limit of $1.25 million,” he says.
Lawyers who represent plaintiffs stand to gain from larger payouts and typically do not favor malpractice award caps because they say it hinders sufficient compensation. Conversely, lawyers who represent defendants, such as the Bloomington Hospital, are more inclined to support Tort reform and caps on awards because they say these legislative tools ward off frivolous lawsuits.
In some other states, plaintiffs can receive millions from health care providers depending on things such as the degree of malpractice, the victim’s earning potential over their lifetime, and projected health care costs.
Jeremy Dilts, a medical malpractice defendant lawyer with the Carson Boxberger law firm, also in Bloomington, says frivolous lawsuits are the primary concern of Tort reform.
“As I tell my clients who are first time defendants, if you choose to become a doctor or health care provider the issue isn’t if you will ever be sued, the issue is when and how often,” Dilts says.
Dilts also says Indiana’s malpractice laws are helping to limit the number of frivolous lawsuits.
“Screening out and putting in place a screening process for even non-frivolous but just not very good or non-meritorious claims before it ever sees the light of a courtroom, I think, is a good idea and I think it’s been fairly effective,” he says.
Still Searching For Answers
IU Health Bloomington hospital officials declined an on-camera interview but did release a statement about the Watson case.
The statement reads: “Indiana University Health Bloomington holds our patients’ safety as our number one priority and takes any matters of quality or safety very seriously. We regret any time a family suffers the loss of a loved one. We have actively responded to the concerns and questions raised by Mrs. Watson’s family and believe we have resolved any issues of concern with the family.”
Although the hospital says it considers the issue resolved, Jeff Watson is still looking for answers. He has submitted a list of questions regarding his wife’s death but says his correspondence dating back several years has gone unanswered.
“I want some justice. I want some answers,” Watson says. “I want some answers. They owe it to her.”
Watson hopes the rally will pressure the hospital answer his questions.