Fayette jury awards $1.45 million in damages against St. Joseph Hospital

jhewlett@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2012 

A Fayette Circuit Court jury has awarded the estate of James Milford Gray $1.45 million in punitive damages from St. Joseph Hospital on Harrodsburg Road for its role in Gray's 1999 death.

The verdict came this week after a three-week trial.

Gray's estate sued the hospital, two doctors, a physician's assistant and three nurses in 2000, accusing them of failing to pay proper attention to the 39-year-old man's symptoms or results of blood tests that indicated his life was in danger. The suit also accused St. Joseph of "patient dumping," the illegal practice of turning away uninsured or under-insured people who need emergency care. And the lawsuit maintained that Gray, who had a criminal record, was told that police would be called if he returned to the hospital.

Gray, a paraplegic since he was shot as a teenager, went to the hospital's emergency room April 8, 1999, complaining of abdominal pain, protracted constipation and vomiting, according to the estate's attorneys. He was given pain medication and an enema, and was discharged.

He returned to the hospital the next day with severe abdominal pain after having vomited blood all night. Laboratory work showed he was critically ill, but the hospital discharged him, and he died several hours later at a relative's home due to peritonitis and a ruptured peptic ulcer, said Lexington lawyer Liz Seif, one of the attorneys for the estate.

St. Joseph and its attorneys have vigorously denied the claims while fighting the lawsuit for 12 years.

One jury trial in the case ended in a mistrial. Then, in 2005, a jury awarded Gray's estate $1.5 million in punitive damages from the hospital. By that time, the hospital was the only defendant.

The latest trial was the result of appeals.

"This case is now 13 years old, and St. Joseph maintains the same position that we have all along, that appropriate care was provided. We plan to appeal the decision once again," St. Joseph spokesman Jeff Murphy said Thursday in an email.

Said Seif: "I feel really gratified in that the jury, once again, saw that the hospital was grossly negligent in its treatment of Milford Gray. We greatly appreciate the jury in this case. They worked very hard. They deliberated for a long time, and their verdict was very courageous."

Jennifer Hewlett: (859) 231-3308. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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