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Family lawyers target a state limit on lawsuit payouts that has been particularly controversial for OHSU.

COURTESY OF LARRY DEAN BLACK FAMILY - Larry Dean Black had been off drugs for years, was riding his bike daily and in line for a liver transplant when a dental procedure at OHSU caused his death, new lawsuits claim. A pair of wrongful death lawsuits filed against Oregon Health & Science University and its employees could circumvent a $3 million cap on payouts by state government entities imposed by the Oregon Legislature.

A state lawsuit seeks $2.75 million from OHSU, while a federal lawsuit for at least $3.75 million — over the same incident — accuses two OHSU providers of violating the civil rights of Larry Dean Black.

The lawsuits filed by his family's attorneys, Jennifer Coughlin and Michelle Burrows, contend that Black died from heavy bleeding after having teeth removed, despite test results beforehand that showed his blood would have problems coagulating.

"Plaintiff has the right not to have his life or liberty taken by government action without due process of law under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution," the federal lawsuit said.

An OHSU spokeswoman said the university could not respond. "Out of respect for and in compliance with patient privacy laws, OHSU will not comment on this case," said media relations manager Tamara Hargens-Bradley.

The lawsuits' filing occurred as the Oregon Legislature is discussing a bill that would remove the state cap on payouts, SB 737.

Suffering from Hepatitis C, a history of meth use and liver damage, Larry Dean Black had been off drugs and alcohol for years, and was ready for a liver transplant, according to the lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court. But he needed to have his dental decay addressed from years of bad teeth.

"Mr. Black was living with his sister, Lenora Houser, and her husband, in Central Oregon, and was riding his bike daily and enjoying being closer to his family," according to the lawsuit.

On Oct 20, 2015, an Oregon Health & Science University oral surgery resident removed 12 teeth from Black, sending him home at 3:30 p.m with a mouthful of gauze, according to the state suit. There, Black bled profusely and early in the morning was transferred by paramedics to the emergency room at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.

"Paramedics estimated Mr. Black had lost a liter of blood based upon what they saw in a bucket at Mr. Black's home as well as during transport," said the state suit.

Due to a lack of beds at St. Charles and OHSU, he was transported via Airlink to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, where he died at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 22 due to heavy bleeding.

The lawsuits claim that test results on the morning of Oct. 20 indicated his blood would not coagulate properly and that he had low blood platelet counts, associated with bleeding disorders.

The federal lawsuit names OHSU dentist Pamela Hughes and an OHSU oral surgery resident, Philip Kupfer.

Last June, the Oregon Board of Dentistry voted to issue a notice of proposed disciplinary action against Hughes, offering a consent order in which she would agree to be reprimanded and pay a $5,000 civil penalty. It voted to take no action against Kupfer. In December the board voted to uphold its earlier vote.

The limit on lawsuit payouts has been particularly controversial for OHSU, with its hospital and associated medical clinics.

In 2013, responding to a lawsuit by the parents of Tyson Horton, a 5-year-old whose liver surgery was botched, almost killing him, an OHSU lawyer agreed that an $8 million payout would be fair in light of the massive medical bills and trauma the family had endured.

But OHSU appealed the lower court's jury verdict awarding more than $12 million to the boy's family. In 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the tort cap, meaning the boy's family would be limited to the $3 million already paid out by OHSU.

That payout was $1 million less than the medical bills already caused for the boy's family by the botched surgery, and another $2 million less than what his future medical needs would require, according to the lower court's ruling.

OHSU is no longer a state agency. In 1995 it persuaded the Legislature to allow it to become a quasi-governmental public corporation, but successfully argued that it should still remain subject to the tort caps that apply to state agencies.

The bill that would lift the state's cap on payouts, SB 737, is currently sitting in the Senate Rules Committee.

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