Case Summaries

Case Summaries

Iowa City, Iowa       

The Speed case was Jim Hayes' first medical malpractice case and the first successful medical malpractice case against the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the State of Iowa.

James R. Speed v. State of Iowa, 240 N.W.2d 901 (1976), changed medical malpractice law in the state of Iowa as it had been known.  Cases were difficult to pursue before Speed because the injured person had to find an Iowa doctor to testify against the defendant doctor.  It all changed with Speed, with the court allowing similarly trained and experienced doctors from across the country to testify as to standard of care.   

James Speed was an outstanding junior college basketball player who enrolled at the University of Iowa on a full scholarship in 1970.  Throughout the summer and fall, he experienced sinus infections for which he was treated by athletic department personnel.  The day following Thanksgiving, Jim asked to see a dentist for a toothache.  Two molars were extracted.  He returned two times to the on-call oral surgeon for extreme head pain, vomiting and malaise.  At the last visit he was given placebos.  His coach sent him to student health.  There the elderly team physician, who suffered from cataracts, examined Jim, ordered no tests, but had the impression of septicemia, brain abscess or mononucleosis.  He prescribed bufferin.  A few hours later, Jim had expulsive vomiting.  A physician gave him medication for pain and to stop the vomiting. 

Later that night, Jim found his way to a lavatory and could see his eyes were swollen almost completely shut.  He asked for help.  The physician on call said to the nurse, "Marie, Jim Speed has sore eyes, give him Seconal and call me tomorrow."  Jim became meningeal and totally blind.  He was rushed to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for surgery where he was diagnosed with cavernous sinus thrombosis.  Later, experts for Speed testified that as long as he could see light, intense antibiotic therapy would have saved his sight.   After a four-week trial, Jim was awarded significant damages. 

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling changed the law in Iowa in respect to expert witnesses, from the local rule to a national rule.  This allowed experts from outside Iowa, similarly educated and experienced, to testify in cases in Iowa, thus opening up the area of medical malpractice.         

Muscatine, Iowa       

Debbie Ross was a country-western singer, single parent, and mother of a young daughter. Debbie's doctor treated her for agoraphobia (fear of leaving the safety of home). One day, Debbie came in with a bad cold. The doctor prescribed and over-the-counter medication which, when combined with her agoraphobia medications, is known to cause strokes. Debbie in fact suffered a disabling stroke. The doctor's insurance company relied on an expert who said Debbie was at greater risk for her outcome because of her low socio-economic status. The jury did not find this defense credible and awarded damages to Debbie for her losses.

Dewitt / Davenport, Iowa       

Amy Sater, age 17, presented for a laparoscopic appendectomy. The surgeon severed blood vessels during the procedure and failed to repair this injury. Amy bled out over a period of several hours, as the doctor and nurse anesthetist insisted everything was okay. Finally, Amy was air-lifted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where the injuries were repaired and her life was saved. Unfortunately, Amy suffered a stroke and brain damage because of the severe blood loss, and she is wheelchair bound for life. A court, for the first time in Iowa, allowed a claim of negligent credentialing against the hospital that gave surgical privileges to the offending doctor. The doctor's license to practice medicine was revoked.

Fort Dodge, Iowa       

Kelsey Sampson was a 15 year-old young lady who had painful urination. She was treated with various medications and regimens for a period of time by her urologist. One day, the urologist decided to use Capsaicin, a substance made out of chili peppers which was not FDA approved for the use he made of it, injecting it into Kelsey's bladder. The hospital pharmacy was involved in this procedure as well, ordering the substance for the urologist and giving him reassurance about its proposed use. Because of the poisonous nature of the substance, Kelsey lost both kidneys and her bladder and has undergone kidney transplant and reconstruction of a new bladder using part of her intestines. Kelsey continues to fight infection, and additional transplants are likely in her future.

Waukon, Iowa       

Curt Weipert, age 16, was riding a motorcycle--contrary to his grandmother's wishes--when a woman in a car sideswiped him on a narrow bridge. The crash resulted in a broken femur for Curt. A local surgeon decided to put a rod in Curt's leg. During the operation, the doctor asked the nurse anesthetist for assistance in holding Curt on the table as the doctor drove the rod into the big bone. During this process, the oxygen tube came out of Curt's mouth, the alarm on the anesthesia machine failed and, for 8-1/2 minutes, no one noticed that Curt was without oxygen. As a result of oxygen deprivation, Curt is a wheelchair-bound spastic quadriplegic, blind, and has difficulty speaking.

Iowa City, Iowa       

Alysia Haman, 12 years old, was a bright and active little girl who fell while ice skating. Her upper arm was X-rayed and a fracture was seen. The fracture went through an area of "honeycombing" of the bone. This condition is easily corrected in a procedure by which an orthopedist uses one large needle to draw fluid from the "honeycombing" and another to inject steroid to promote bone growth. The surgeon encountered some clotting of blood, which closed the opening of the first needle. For some reason he could not explain, rather than replacing the needle, he injected 60cc of air to clear the needle. In doing so, the air went directly through the bloodstream to Alysia's heart and stopped it for many minutes. The anesthesiologist could not understand why her young patient was not breathing. The surgeon said nothing and stood back while the anesthesiologist worked frantically to save Alysia's life. Due to lack of oxygen, Alysia is a spastic quadriplegic who has difficulty speaking. She retains her level of intelligence, but is dependent for her daily cares.

Burlington, Iowa      

Janet Hachmeister from Burlington, Iowa, presented to the Great River Medical Center because she was having severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea. The nurse inserted an 1V and then began administering the anti-nausea medication, Phenergan. Phenergan is a chemical agent known to be caustic to tissue. Janet immediately and repeatedly complained of intense pain at the IV site, but the nurse continued pushing the Phenergan. As a matter of fact, the IV had been improperly inserted into the artery rather than a vein, hence the intense pain. The FDA had issued a warning about the dangers of the use of Phenergan and potential adverse effects of improperly administration. The nurse was unaware of the FDA warnings. Janet suffered severe damage to the arteries, veins and nerves in her arms, requiring multiple surgical procedures. Her arm remains exquisitely painful and she experiences swelling, numbness and reduced blood flow.

Davenport, Iowa      

Jeannette Ebeling was a healthy 31-year-old single parent of a five-year-old son in November of 2007. Jeannette lived in Davenport, Iowa, and was successfully employed. She underwent a surgical procedure in her chest to repair incisional hernias resulting from a previous surgery for her reflux problems. The surgeon, Dr. Matthew Christophersen, used a "spinal tacker" to place screws securing mesh to tissue surrounding the hernias. In the course of the surgery, Dr. Christophersen fired several screws into Jeannette's heart. Later in her hospital room, Jeannette collapsed and she eventually died. Autopsy disclosed three screws embedded in the heart tissue itself and Jeannette's death was due to bleeding from the heart.

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