The Iowa jury awards Mann $27 million after a physician assistant diagnosed him with the flu — he had meningitis

An Iowa man has been awarded $27 million by a Polk County jury after a medical misdiagnosis left him with permanent brain damage. The local emergency room told him he had the flu and discharged him from their facility, but they were wrong. He actually had acute meningitis.

Iowa man settles misconduct lawsuit
Joseph Dudley settles misconduct lawsuit (Credit KCCI)

On Monday, November 21, the jury found Melanie Choos, the physician assistant at UnityPoint Health’s Emergency Department, to be negligent in diagnosing Joseph Dudley, a 53-year-old black man from Des Moines, with influenza.

As a result of the February 2017 misdiagnosis, the man has physical and mental disabilities that, according to the Des Moines Register, prevent him from playing a consistently active role in the lives of his young children, according to his wife Sarah Dudley.

The jury awarded the Dudleys $12 million for future loss of mind and body, $10 million for future pain and suffering based on his life expectancy, $2.5 million for past loss of body and mental function, and $2.5 million for past pain and suffering.

The couple received $2 million more than originally expected.

Nick Rowley, a Decorah-based attorney representing the Dudleys, stated that Choos failed to conduct a full investigation and did not order the appropriate tests to accurately diagnose him.

“This is a fair and equitable ruling for a man who has severe, permanent brain damage and who is one of tens of thousands of medical malpractice victims whose cases are pending in this country,” the attorney said of the decision.

Rowley added that Choos had no attending physician on site that day, resulting in “sloppy, substandard medical care.”

“Physician assistants should not run clinics alone without a supervising physician,” Rowley said. “It shouldn’t be happening in Iowa, but it’s happening in Iowa and that’s why people get hurt and people die.”

Dudley returned home in February 2017 complaining of tiredness and dizziness.

By 7 p.m., he had developed a high fever, prompting his wife to take him to UnityPoint. When the couple arrived at the emergency clinic on February 17, his fever had risen to 103.6 degrees and he was becoming delusional, erratic and combative when staff attempted a nose test.

Other symptoms encountered during the study included an abnormally rapid heart rate and tachypnea, or abnormally rapid and shallow breathing.

The trial found that Choos gave Dudley a flu test, which came back negative. Despite this, she misdiagnosed him and sent him home with Tamiflu and the recommendation to come back if he wasn’t better in a week or so.

Rowley claims, “That was a death sentence for Joe.”

The Dudleys left the facility with the husband placed in a wheelchair because he was too dizzy to walk and a clinic worker helped Sarah get her husband into his car.

The woman said, “I had faith in you. I believed them. They are doctors. They should help people. I never thought we would be treated like this in an emergency clinic.”

Dudley has never been better. So on February 20, 2017, Sarah took her husband to UnityPoint Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a severe form of meningitis, one so severe that he had to be placed in a medically induced coma.

Doctors said as a result of the infection caused by his meningitis, Dudley suffered three strokes, lost hearing in his right ear and suffered nerve damage in his right leg. He can no longer walk straight.

He stayed in the intensive care unit for eight days and later transferred to the inpatient care unit. He said they had almost a month and received his release on March 28, 2017.

Sarah believes her husband was abused because of his race and said when Choos entered the room to review his case, she asked what illegal drugs Dudley was on and if he was in withdrawal.

At that time, Sarah told the doctor’s assistant that he was not taking any drugs. Despite this concern about racial discrimination, it was not mentioned during the trial.

Rowley defended this decision to exclude assumed racial bias from his argument because he had a strong enough case without it.

“It’s not what we presented to the jury, but we believe this may have happened based on statistics and what we know nationally,” the attorney said.

On Tuesday, November 22, UnityPoint Health issued a statement denying that Choos’ error was due to racial bias.

Health system officials wrote, “UnityPoint Health emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in healthcare.”

“We strive to eliminate racial, economic and social differences while improving the health of the people and communities we serve,” it continued. “Our top priority is to provide the best possible care to all who need us and to make our spaces safe and welcoming for patients, families and team members.”

On Monday, UnityPoint Health officials claimed Dudley received the standard of care appropriate for the symptoms he was exhibiting at the time.

“We respect the jury process, but we strongly disagree with this verdict and are evaluating all options, including an appeal. We support our providers and clinicians as they make important medical decisions every day,” officials said in a statement. “UnityPoint Clinic remains committed to providing compassionate, personalized care and meeting the highest standards of clinical quality and patient safety.”

Though the couple will be $27 million richer if the award is upheld, and his physical condition has improved significantly over the past five years, Dudley continues to suffer from mood swings, struggles with paranoia and is forever changed.

He has since learned to walk again, moving away from his walker and now using a cane to get around. He also relearned how to pronounce certain words, how to feed himself, and how to bathe.

There is progress, albeit slowly. Still, he can’t go skating with his 6-year-old daughter, Sarah revealed, something her little girl has a hard time coming to terms with.

Money aside, Sarah says, “Every day of Joe’s life will be affected by his severe brain damage.” The Iowa jury awards Mann $27 million after a physician assistant diagnosed him with the flu — he had meningitis

James Brien

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