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Woman Paralyzed by Spinal Steroid Injection in Denver to Receive Only A Fraction of Verdict

As we all continue to await voting on H.R. 1215, a house-introduced bill that would limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice, nursing home, product liability, and pharmaceutical cases, we are constantly reminded of the impact medical error can have on one’s life.

This month, a Colorado woman was awarded $15 million after unauthorized use of an epidural steroid known to cause severe neurological problems. The woman suffered a stroke from the medication and is now paralyzed from the waist down. The woman, Mrs. Robbin Smith, told CBS4 Denver that “Our life has changed forever. I died that day, I completely died that day.” Colorado is one of a handful of states that have passed legislation limiting the amount of non-economic (also known as punitive) damages. Despite a $15 million jury verdict, the second largest malpractice verdict in the state’s history, Mrs. Smith will only receive a capped amount as allowed by Colorado law – likely less than 1/3 of the full amount awarded to her.

Doctors Ignored FDA Warning
As a chronic sufferer of back pain, Mrs. Smith had received spinal steroid injections in the past. She made an appointment at The Surgery Center at Lone Tree in the south metro area of Denver, Colorado to get a handle on her back pain before traveling to Missouri for her son’s wedding. At Lone Tree, Mrs. Smith was given Kenalog, a corticosteroid she had never been given before and one that the FDA warns should NOT be given via spinal epidural. The side effects of Kenalog are relatively rare and typically minimal when properly administered, but the risks are significantly greater when injected into the spine; so severe that the FDA warns of serious injury and death. Mrs. Smith was not informed of the potential side effects of Kenalog and says that she would’ve never elected for the medication if given the facts.

It only took minutes for the injection to paralyze Mrs. Smith and after spending two months living in a rehab facility and missing her son’s wedding, she was told there was no chance she’d walk again. Mrs. Smith is learning to accept that her entire life has changed, but says it is painful to believe that her dreams of traveling with her husband and enjoying their days as retirees have been shattered. Her husband, Ed, took early retirement to help care for her, as her condition requires constant aid.

It’s Not About the Money
Mrs. Smith told CBS4 Denver that “It’s not about the money.” “Give me my legs back, that will trade for the money, that will completely trade for the money. Is that going to happen? No.” Her sentiment echoes that of many who believe in victim’s rights. No jury verdict or settlement is going to change the past. Money cannot right a wrong. What fair settlements and verdicts do is compensate those who have greatly suffered and have lost things that matter more than money: the ability to work and provide for themselves and their family, the ability to have children, ability to walk, run, ride a bike, travel, play on the floor with and chase children and grandchildren. All of the things that we do enjoy everyday are what make our lives meaningful. If a medical mistake alters the entire course of one’s life, it doesn’t seem right to pass legislation that puts a number on what a life is worth. For Mrs. Smith, despite being awarded $15 million, any amount that does not specifically go to paying for expenses she incurred as a result of the injury are being limited. For victims such as Mrs. Smith who live in Colorado, they are limited by caps on non-economic damages.

The topic of caps on damages is as pertinent as ever. The house introduced H.R. 1215 and if approved, would limit victims’ rights in every state in this country. As children, we’re taught to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes so that we can see both sides of an argument. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be able to put themselves in Mrs. Smith’s position and understand how such a negligent act could go unpunished. Furthermore, for those who argue that money can’t alleviate some of a victim’s pain and suffering, consider what Mrs. Smith could do if she actually received the $15 million that a jury decided she deserved: She could travel with her husband and afford to pay someone to assist her while on their travels. Her dream of seeing the world was taken away from her by medical negligence and it could’ve yet again been a reality…if only she lived in a different state.

Pending Legislation Could Cap Damages in Every State
If H.R. 1215 (also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act) becomes law, we are all facing the sad reality that medical negligence will essentially be allowed to go unchecked. Sure, there will be still be lawsuits that compensate victims for the dollars they’ve actually spent, but what about the loss of everything you once loved and looked forward to? What about dancing with your spouse at your child’s wedding? What about your dream of seeing the world after years of working and saving to do just that? What about the positive changes that could come in the medical community by adopting better practices and training for staff? These are what non-economic damages are for. Not to make people rich, but to hopefully create better and safer medical practices and treatments and to give back some of what has been taken from victims.

Please let your congressmen/women know that you are against H.R. 1215 and urge them to vote accordingly. To do so, please click here to search for your representatives using your zip code and send an auto-generated email urging them to vote NO on H.R. 1215.