Attorneys say Tyrone Hospital trying 'to threaten and terrify a community.'
Altoona Mirror, March 8, 2006
by Phil Ray and Greg Bock
HOLLIDAYSBURG – Lawyers for a 10-year-old boy suffering from cerebral palsy say a civil court verdict of more than $4 million in Blair County three weeks ago is not excessive as claimed by Tyrone Hospital and a doctor found negligent by the jury.
The doctor, Roy R. Pazmino, and the hospital have requested Judge Hiram A. Carpenter to lower the amount of the verdict because neither party has the insurance to cover the total amount.
The hospital predicted it may have to declare bankruptcy or close if the verdict is not reduced to $2 million, the amount of the combined insurance coverage for the hospital and its doctor.
The hospital also claimed if it should close, doctors serving the community would leave.
Attorney Jerry Meyers of Pittsburgh, representing the boy, Jacob Mayhue, and his parents, Trudy and Melvin Mayhue, said Tuesday that the doctor and the hospital’s response is an “effort to threaten and terrify a community.”
Meyers argued that the area is served not only by Altoona’s Regional Health System, but also Conemaugh Health System in Johnstown, UPMC Regional in Bedford and Mount Nittany in State College.
He called the legal papers filed by Pazmino and the hospital “conclusionary statements and bombastic rhetoric.”
The issue, he said, is to provide care for Jacob who, according to testimony, will need medical care for the rest of his life.
Jacob was injured during birth in 1995 when his head became stuck in his mother’s birth canal and his heart stopped for at least seven minutes.
The baby eventually was delivered by Caesarean section but has cerebral palsy.
The largest portion of the verdict, $2.7 million, represents the unchallenged cost of caring for Jacob throughout his life, Meyers said.
The jury also awarded Jacob $652,000 for pain and suffering, lost wages, embarrassment and disfigurements.
The Mayhues’ attorneys said the rules of civil procedure established by the state Supreme Court do not permit lowering the verdict in civil cases to fit the insurance coverage.
Also, damages such as the $2.7 million cannot be lowered legally, the attorneys said.
A section of the state’s catastrophic health care coverage law permits lowering verdicts if a judge believes they are excessive, while the state’s Supreme Court rules do not allow such a procedure, Meyers said.
The Mayhue attorneys have notified the state attorney general of the possible constitutional dilemma.
In a separate statement Tuesday, Roger Baumgarten, spokesman for the hospital and Health-system Association of Pennsylvania, said the Tyrone case illustrates a need for a joint liability law.
In the Mayhue civil case, Tyrone Hospital was found 20 percent negligent and Pazmino 80 percent negligent, yet both parties are responsible for the payment.
A bill up for a vote in the state House next week, Senate Bill 435, would have multiple parties in civil suits pay only their proportion of damages.
This would mean Tyrone Hospital would be responsible for only $880,000 of the Mayhue verdict and its portion would be covered by its insurance coverage.
Baumgarten said now the burden of paying rests with those with the deepest pockets.
“We think it is needed, and this Tyrone case is exhibit A,” Baumgarten said.