$2.7 Million Verdict Affirms Patient's Right to Know

Medical Malpractice Attorney Peter H. Weinberger of the Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP law firm reports that a court jury in Cleveland has returned a verdict of $2,700,000 for injuries caused to Mrs. Debbie Neifer – a wife, mother and waitress at a Cleveland-area Friendly’s. (Case: CV 12 787443 in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas)

In March of 2006, Mrs. Debbie Neifer sought treatment with Dr. Carlos Zevallos for her rheumatoid arthritis. At that first visit, Dr. Zevallos increased her dosage of Methotrexate (a commonly prescribed Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug) that her primary care physician had prescribed and ordered a chest x-ray, which was clear, showing no pulmonary disease.

In 2010, she returned to Dr. Zevallos, who decided to supplement the Methotrexate she was taking with the drug Leflunomide. While Methotrexate and Leflunomide can be used in combination to provide greater relief than either drug alone in some patients, the drugs when taken together have the potential to cause severe lung disease, especially in patients like Mrs. Neifer. Notwithstanding that risk, Dr. Zevallos added the Leflunomide and did not order tests to evaluate her lungs. Just seven months later, at a regularly-scheduled appointment, Dr. Zevallos heard crackling in Mrs. Neifer’s lungs during a routine office visit. Dr. Zevallos sent her for a chest x-ray. The following day, Dr. Zevallos received the x-ray results with comments from the radiologist indicating possible lung disease. In fact, had further testing been done at that time, it would have been discovered that Mrs. Neifer was now suffering from interstitial lung disease - a known risk of combing Methotrexate and Leflunomide. However, Dr. Zevallos did nothing to follow up on the x-ray and further, he failed to inform Mrs. Neifer of the abnormal x-ray result, preventing her from appropriately participating in decisions regarding any future course of treatment. All Dr. Zevallos did was file the x-ray report in her chart and continue to prescribe Methotrexate and Leflunomide.

In June 2011 - nine months after the abnormal chest x-ray – Mrs. Neifer was having trouble breathing and was rushed to the emergency room. She learned then that she had developed terminal lung disease, caused by the combination of Methotrexate and Leflunomide. She spent months in the hospital, away from her family, unable to work. She moved to a nursing home, where she was confined to a wheelchair, requiring an increasing supply of external oxygen in order to breath. A month after the verdict, on January 18, 2014, Mrs. Neifer passed away from her injuries, leaving behind her husband Mark and son Michael.

Mrs. Neifer incurred medical bills in excess of $650,000. She was totally and permanently disabled and required round the clock care and oxygen treatment before she died. The jury awarded her $1,000,000 for her economic losses, $1,000,000 for her non-economic losses, and her husband $700,000 for his losses. Because she has now passed away, a second lawsuit will be filed against the doctor and his corporation for causing her wrongful death. That case will be tried on damages only as the jury’s finding of liability in the first trial will apply to the wrongful death case.


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