A state court jury has awarded $20 million to a Lowell man who filed a lawsuit alleging that his left leg had to be amputated after employees at Lowell General Hospital’s emergency department twice misdiagnosed a painful blood clot as sciatica and sent him home.
The award, which is the state’s largest in a medical malpractice case this year based on a database compiled by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, was ordered on Friday by a Middlesex Superior Court jury in Lowell that deliberated for 9 1/2 hours over two days, according to Robert Higgins, the patient’s lawyer.
The sum surpassed the $16 million that Higgins had requested.
Higgins said his client, Steven Luppold, a 43-year-old former construction worker who had been disabled by injuries to his other leg before the amputation and stopped working, was pleased with the verdict but upset by the evidence presented during the trial.
“I think it’s bittersweet,” said Higgins, a partner at the Boston law firm Lubin & Meyer. “He understands that with a simple ultrasound [imaging test], he’d still have his leg.”
James Bello, the Boston lawyer who defended a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner for Merrimack Valley Emergency Associates, the physicians’ group also named as a defendant, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Peter Kelley, a Burlington lawyer who defended three emergency department nurses, declined to comment.
Luppold first went to the emergency department at Lowell General on March 7, 2015, according to a pretrial summary filed by his lawyer. He had a long history of sciatica ― back pain that often radiates down the leg ― but was worried because the discomfort in his left foot felt different.
Two nurses who saw Luppold allegedly entered worrisome symptoms into his medical records, including that the foot was turning purple and was cool to the touch. Nonetheless, the physician assistant, Charles Loucraft, evidently didn’t read the records and diagnosed Luppold, who was 35 at the time, with worsening sciatica, Higgins said.
Six days later, Luppold returned to the emergency department complaining that the pain in his ankle had reached 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. He was seen by two nurses, one of whom had seen him the first time, and was then examined by a nurse practitioner, Carlos Flores. Nonetheless, Flores concluded that it was still just sciatica and sent Luppold home.
Four days later, with the pain no better, Luppold called his primary care physician at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington. The doctor performed an ultrasound and diagnosed left leg deep vein thrombosis and arterial thrombosis and immediately took him to the emergency room, Higgins said.
A vascular surgeon ordered a computerized tomography, or CT, scan that showed that tissue in his leg was dying, Higgins said. The next day, after concluding they had no choice, doctors amputated Luppold’s left leg above his knee.
Higgins said his client’s leg could have been saved if medical staff at Lowell General had ordered an ultrasound during either of his visits to the emergency department.
“Honestly, the reason this happened was because the communication that happened in the emergency department between the nurses and providers was nonexistent,” he said.
The jury award consisted of $10 million for pain and suffering and $10 million to compensate Luppold for having to live the rest of his life without the leg.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com.