Jury awards $10.83M in Tyrone Hospital case
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County jury has awarded $10.83 million to a 45-year-old Tyrone man who sustained life-changing brain damage after undergoing an MRI in 2016 at Tyrone Hospital.
The unanimous verdict in favor of Christopher Carey Miller assigned a large portion of the award — $6.21 million — to Miller’s future medical expenses and round-the-clock supervision, stretching over the next three decades. The rest was designated for Miller’s medical expenses to date, his lost earnings and for pain and suffering.
“I was so pleased for the family,” Pittsburgh attorney Brendan Lupetin said Wednesday about the verdict. “Chris’ father was so overwhelmed, he almost didn’t even have words afterwards.”
“It was like the end of a nightmare and to our ongoing concerns about Chris,” Timothy Miller said Wednesday about his son.
The father said he listened closely as Judge Jackie Bernard polled each of 12 jurors about their support for the verdict, reached after deliberating for 2.5 hours on Tuesday.
“Everyone said, ‘yes,'” Miller said.
The verdict and monetary award, which Lupetin maintains is the largest in Blair County, ended a civil court trial focused on Christopher Miller’s trip to Tyrone Hospital on Oct. 4, 2016, for an MRI to address back pain.
During the procedure, Miller, then 41, had an allergic reaction to gadolinium, a chemical substance used to create greater contrasts on MRI images. He subsequently went into cardiac arrest and endured brain damage that left him with the mental acuity of a young child.
Duncansville attorney Michael Sosnowski tried to the convince the jury that Tyrone Hospital personnel responded to Miller’s allergic reaction and made medical care decisions in Miller’s best interest.
“If you listened to some of the questioning (during the trial), you’d think that nobody responded at all,” Sosnowski told the jury in his closing. “But that wasn’t true.”
Lupetin and co-counsel Gregory Unatin called several witnesses to describe how hospital personnel responded. The hospital didn’t have an alarm or an emergency drug box in its MRI room, where Miller’s difficulty developed.
Sherry Piper, the MRI technologist who recognized that Christopher Miller was having an adverse reaction to the gadolinium, told the jury she left Miller in the MRI room and went to the room’s control center to activate the alarm. Then she said she went into the hallway and yelled for help.
Dr. Kelly Biggs, the supervising radiologist, responded to Piper’s summons. After seeing Miller in the MRI room, Biggs left to get Dr. Anthony Zinobile, the emergency room medical director.
Zinobile, unfamiliar with the alarm, was found standing on a chair looking into the ceiling for the source of the sound. Zinobile accompanied Biggs to the MRI room and directed Miller to be moved to the ER.
Witness testimony indicated that the MRI room didn’t have an emergency drug box with ephinephrine, an anti-allergy medication, because that medication and other resources are available in the nearby ER.
Sosnowski tried, in his closing, to the convince the jury that neither Biggs nor Zinobile would have administered ephinephrine to Miller without additional assessment.
Lupetine, however, asked the jurors to recognize Miller’s lack of treatment and to recall the testimony of Dr. Michael Bruno of Hershey Medical Center, who used ephinephrine to successfully address one of his own patients experiencing an allergic reaction.
“They wasted precious time,” Lupetin said.
The jury assigned 75 percent of the negligence in the medical malpractice case to Tyrone Hospital and 25 percent to Biggs. The hospital, contacted Wednesday, declined comment on the case. Sosnowski also indicated that he would have no comment after the verdict was rendered.
Timothy Miller said that he and his wife, Sharon, are grateful to the jurors for holding the hospital and Biggs 100 percent responsible for what happened.
“All the money awarded will go into a trust fund for our son,” Timothy Miller said. “His future care was the reason we pursued this.”