A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday awarded $3.75 million in damages to a Northwest Washington man who was permanently disabled after Howard University Hospital emergency room personnel allegedly failed to promptly diagnose and operate on his fractured skull.
The jury returned its verdict, one of the largest awards in court history here, hearing allegations that doctors failed to examine James R. McClain, a 34-year-old laborer, until about 12 hours after he was admitted to the emergency room with skull injuries he suffered in a fall in December 1978.
As a result of the inattention, according to court papers filed by McClain's attorney, McClain has become blind, crippled and unable to speak. He is paralyzed on his right side and has only limited movement on his left side. His mental capacity is limited, and his lawyer said he will need constant medical care.
"The [award] is what it will cost to take care of him the rest of his life," said attorney Ferdinand J. Mack.
Howard University Hospital' attorney, John F. Mahoney Jr., said he would ask Judge John D. Fauntleroy, who presided over the week-long trial, to set aside the verdict.
Fauntleroy could grant a new trial or reduce the judgment, but Mack contended that "awards such as this, while very large, are simply a reflection of what his [McClain's] needs are. I don't expect it to be reduced."
Mack said McClain probably will understand that he won the medical malpractice verdict, but "when he sees his conforts increasing more, more physical therapy and round-the-clock nurses devoted just to him -- which is what the money will be used for -- he'll appreciate it more."
McClain, who lived with his cousin, was on his way to visit a friend at the time of the injury, according to court records. McClain currently is at Howard University Hospital, his lawyer said.
According to court records, McClain, of 1350 Clifton St. NW suffered a seizure and fell backwards on a downtown street corner at about 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1978, near Fifth and M streets NW. His head struck the concrete sideawalk, fracturing his skull.
Hospital attorney Mahoney said the "hospital has maintained and it still does that Mr. McClain's diabling injuries occurred before he arrived at the hospital and not during his stay there. They were caused by the fall, the fracture sustained by the fall, and the resulting clots that accompanied the fracture.
McClain was taken by ambulance to the hospital emergency room, the records show, where his vital signs were taken "sporadically," according to court papers filed by McClain's attorney. It was not until the middle of the afternoon that skull x-rays were ordered. The x-rays were made at about 5 p.m. and surgery performed after 1 a.m.