Mathews County man wins medical malpractice case after suffering severe heart attack
HAMPTON -- A Mathews County man who had a severe heart attack months after being given Advil to treat his heart condition landed a $25 million verdict on Thursday from a jury in Hampton Circuit Court. According to the law firm that represented him, it's the largest ever medical malpractice verdict in Virginia and the largest personal inury verdict ever handed down in Hampton. But the verdict against Riverside Health System and one of its cardiologists won't stand. It's expected to be reduced to less than a tenth of the original amount because of a state law that caps medical malpractice damages in Virginia at $2 million.
It was January 2010 when Christopher Denton, then 37, had a sudden onset of chest pain that radiated to his jaw and left arm, according to his attorney, Jason Konvicka of the Richmond law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, who tried the case with Malcolm McConnell, another lawyer with the firm. After initially being treated at Riverside's Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester, Denton was transferred to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. A cardiologist, Dr. Edward Chu, examined the results of tests into whether arteries near Denton's heart might be blocked. Konvicka said Chu diagnosed Denton with a mild infection of his heart that could be treated with over-the-counter medication, and that his coronary arteries were normal and clear of any disease. But three months later, Denton suffered a massive heart attack.
Once athletic, Denton, who ran a lawn care business, used to coach his kids in sports. Now, Konvicka said, he can't run to first base without getting severely winded. He gets winded after a long conversation or walking up two flights of stairs, the lawyer said. Denton, now 41, will likely require a heart transplant within five years, and there's only a 50 percent chance he will survive 10 years after that, Konvicka said. "He said he would give up every material thing if he could have his heart back," Konvicka said. "He is functioning with the equivalent of half his heart."
After the heart attack, another cardiologist, working in the same practice with Chu, went back and looked at the initial records from January 2010. Konvicka said that cardiologist, Dr. Allan Murphy, disagreed with Chu's original diagnosis. The Hampton trial, in Judge Louis Lerner's courtroom, became a battle of experts. Plaintiffs' experts contended the January tests showed severe blockage requiring a stent to open the arteries. The defense experts, however, contended the blockages seen in January were far less severe and did not necessitate drastic action. Konvicka said the jury could see the test results "with their own eyes" and believed the plaintiffs' version of the case. Chu declined to comment Friday. But Riverside spokesman Peter Glagola released the following statement to the Daily Press: "At Riverside, we are extremely focused on quality medical care and always strive for the best medical outcomes. Edward Chu, M.D., is an excellent and skilled cardiologist. Riverside and Dr. Chu adamantly disagree with the jury's verdict and do not believe that the verdict was supported by the evidence. We wish Mr. Denton and his family the best." A lawyer for Riverside and Chu, Robert Donnelly with the Richmond firm of Goodman, Allen & Filetti, didn't return a phone call Friday, but sent an email to the Daily Press that said, in part: "We have the best justice system in the world, but sometimes juries get it wrong. Dr. Chu is a patriot and one of the finest physicians I've ever met."
Konvicka said that the jury wasn't told about the $2 million cap when they went into the jury room following three days of evidence and testimony. The seven-member jury deliberated for about three and a half hours before reaching their verdict. "They heard the evidence and came up with what they thought was a fair and just verdict for the parties," Konvicka said. "I think the cap is certainly unjust. It punishes those who are injured the worst." He added that he's considering fighting the state cap on damages as being a violation of his client's rights. "We are reserving the right to challenge the constitutionality of the cap," Konvicka said. "People have tried over the years to do that, and we want to at least have some time to research it and think about it."