Iowa Jury Returns $27M Malpractice Verdict Over Delayed Meningitis Diagnosis, Beating $250k Settlement Offer

Posted by David Siegel on Nov 22, 2022 12:49:16 PM

Dudley closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Nick Rowley delivering his closing argument. Click here to see video from the trial.

Des Moines, IA - An Iowa state court jury awarded $27 million on Monday to a man who suffered neurological damage after a physician assistant’s failure to diagnose a serious brain infection. 

The Polk County jury’s $27 million verdict exceeded the request for $25 million in damages made by attorney Nick Rowley of Trial Lawyers for Justice, who represented plaintiff Joseph Dudley. Rowley told Courtroom View Network after the trial the award also beats out defendant UnityPoint Health’s largest pre-trial settlement offer of $250,000.

UnityPoint, which argued at trial the treatment Dudley received was consistent with the standard of care, told CVN they are considering an appeal.

The full trial was webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by CVN. Sign up for a monthly or annual subscription to CVN’s online trial video library and get unlimited on-demand access to the full proceedings, along with hundreds of other civil trials featuring a wide range of practice areas and many of the country’s top plaintiff and defense attorneys.

(Check out 10 must-watch plaintiff and defense medical malpractice verdicts in CVN’s video library, all included with a subscription among many others.)

Dudley sued UnityPoint after a physician's assistant in 2017 diagnosed him with the flu after he arrived at an urgent care clinic suffering from a severe fever and extreme disorientation. He was sent home with flu medication, but 60 hours later he went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, leaving him with permanent brain damage.

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The jury rejected UnityPoint’s argument that a flu diagnosis was reasonable because Dudley lacked the severe head and neck pain frequently associated with meningitis infections, and Rowley told CVN the lack of a positive flu test played a key role in the case.

“As for causation, the proof was in the pudding,” Rowley said. “If it was the flu, where was it? It showed up nowhere. This wasn’t a virus.”

He said jurors found the testimony from Dudley’s wife, Sarah, to be persuasive. She accompanied him to the urgent care and testified about her husband’s extreme distress, including such severe disorientation he became physically combative when medical staff attempted to administer a nasal swab.

She also testified the physician’s assistant immediately asked, “What is he on, is he withdrawing?” upon walking into the examination room, to which Sarah responded “My husband doesn’t do drugs.”

“Her story about what happened at the urgent care on February 17th was true and compelling,” Rowley said.

Dudley defense closings

CVN screenshot of defense attorney Erik Bergeland delivering his closing argument

Rowley said UnityPoint’s $250,000 settlement offer only came within a week of the trial beginning.

“The defense never offered a penny until the Thursday before trial,” he said, expressing confidence the verdict would not be reversed on appeal. “This is collectible and the record is clean.”

Rowley also suggested Dudley’s race may have played a role in the resistance of UnityPoint’s insurers to settle the case.

“It seems like there is a trend that people of color are valued lower by insurance companies,” he said.

A spokesperson for UnityPoint declined to comment on the specifics of the case but stood by the care Dudley received.

“While we cannot discuss specific details regarding the care of any individual patient, we do believe we met well established standards of care,” the company said in a statement. “We respect the jury process but strongly disagree with this verdict and are exploring all options including an appeal. We support our providers and clinicians as they make important medical decisions each day.”

UnityPoint was represented at trial by Erik Bergeland of the Finley Law Firm.

The case is captioned Joseph Dudley, et al. v. Central Iowa Hospital Corp, et al., case number 05771 LACL138335 in Iowa’s 5th Judicial District in Polk County.

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Topics: Medical Malpractice