Allen v. Donna Gamache, M.D., et. al. – $6.5M

Location: Circuit Court for the City of Fredericksburg
Injuries: Catastrophic Injuries
Jury Verdict: $6,500,000

Allen v. Donna Gamache, M.D., et. al.
Circuit Court for the City of Fredericksburg

Outcome: $6,500,000 – Jury Verdict

Allen v. Donna Gamache, M.D., et. al.
Circuit Court for the City of Fredericksburg

Outcome: $1,800,000 – Jury Verdict

In June 2000, Mr. Allen, the plaintiff, (not related to any member of the Allen law firm) was a 30-year-old attorney.  He had just begun working for the National Science Foundation, moved to Fredericksburg, and purchased a new house.

The plaintiff selected the defendant doctor for his primary care and saw him on June 22, 2000 for a baseline physical examination.  At the time of the visit, plaintiff said he was feeling the stress of recent events and defendant prescribed a mild anti-anxiety medication for him. Several weeks later, Mr. Allen called Dr. Gamache’s office, complaining of numbness and tingling in his hands and feet.  He was told to lower his dose of the medication.  He was not told that his symptoms were serious and was not asked to come in to the doctor’s office.

Several weeks later, the plaintiff called again.  He had reduced his medication, as instructed, but was still experiencing tingling.  He was asked to come in, but no urgency was communicated. The plaintiff obtained an appointment for two weeks later, and he was seen by the defendant doctor on September 1, 2000.  By that time, he had discontinued the medication altogether.  Although Dr. Gamache documented that the plaintiff’s symptoms were “debilitating,” she performed no physical examination.  Instead, she advised the plaintiff to seek counseling to deal with his stress.  She also suggested that plaintiff’s physical symptoms were likely caused by the anti-anxiety medication, and he needed to wait six to eight weeks for the symptoms to resolve.

On September 27 and 29, 2000, the plaintiff and his wife called Dr. Gamache’s office and reported worsening symptoms.  The doctor agreed to see him the following Monday and advised him that, if his symptoms were bad enough, he could go to the emergency room; however, at no time did she express any concern that he was in any danger.

On October 2, 2000, Mr. Allen was transported to the Emergency Room at Mary Washington Hospital, where he was diagnosed with swelling of the cervical spinal cord.  High-dose steroids were initiated, and he was transferred to Medical College of Virginia Hospital.  There, his spinal cord was biopsied, and he was diagnosed with myelitis – an inflammation of the spinal cord.  Steroid therapy was continued for the next two years. During that time, attempts to wean Mr. Allen off of steroids resulted in increasing inflammation, but the inflammation was consistently reversed when his steroid doses were increased.

Mr. Allen is now permanently disabled.  He suffers from chronic and significant pain, paresthesias, balance and walking difficulties, loss of fine motor skills, bowel and bladder control problems, and erectile dysfunction.

At trial, Mr. Allen contended that the defendant doctor failed to take an adequate history regarding his complaints and failed to perform physical and neurological examinations.  The plaintiff also contended that a proper history and neurological examination would have ruled out the diagnosis of medication side effects as a cause of his complaints and would have resulted in the diagnosis of his myelitis at an earlier stage.  Such a prompt diagnosis would have allowed for earlier steroid treatment, which would have prevented the plaintiff’s end-stage deterioration.

The case was tried over the course of one week.  The jury verdict of $6,500,000 was, at that time, believed to be the largest medical malpractice verdict in Virginia history.  The verdict remains the largest malpractice verdict in the Circuit Court for the City of Fredericksburg.

***This case was retried in November, 2005 after an appeal by the defendant doctor.  On appeal, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that Dr. Gamache had been negligent in her treatment of Mr. Allen, but ordered that the case be retried only as to the issue whether the doctor’s negligence caused Mr. Allen’s injuries.

In order to protect the privacy of his family members, Mr. Allen gave up a significant portion of his claim.  Therefore, the evidence the jury heard in the second trial differed from the evidence given in the first trial.  The trial lasted four days, and the jury deliberated for four and a half hours before finding that Dr. Gamache’s negligence had caused Mr. Allen permanent and disabling injury.  The jury’s verdict of $1,800,000 was one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Virginia during 2005.