On November 19, 2021, a federal jury in Minnesota found Assist America, Inc. liable to a 67-year-old man for its failure to fly him by air ambulance from Mexico back to the United States for necessary and timely medical treatment for a knee injury resulting from a ziplining accident. As a result, the man later required amputation of his right leg above the knee.
The man, who was a plastic surgeon, was in Mexico with his wife in April 2015 when he struck his knee on a piece of equipment while ziplining, causing his knee to dislocate. He was intially provided medical care at a clinic in Mexico after which he contacted Assist America, Inc. to transport him to the United States because the care he was receiving in Mexico was inappropriate.
Assist America, Inc. states on its website: “Assist America, Inc. is the nation’s largest provider of global emergency medical services through employee and student benefit plans … Our members enjoy complete peace of mind, freed from dealing with complex decisions and financial considerations during difficult times, and secure in knowing that a phone call to Assist America will put our vast network of resources in motion on behalf of any medical travel emergency. And, if appropriate medical care is not available locally, we will transport a patient, by air ambulance if necessary, to the nearest facility that meets our rigorous standards. Our 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year Operations Centers are staffed by experienced, knowledgeable, multilingual emergency certified medical and assistance professionals.”
The man was entitled to benefits through Assist America, Inc. pursuant to the contarct between Assist America, Inc. and the American Medical Association, which was the man’s insurer.
The man alleged that the medical care he received in Mexico was an x-ray and hard-casting of his entire leg, after which he was told that he would be fine by the next day. The man contacted Assist America the night after his injury after he had spoken with an orthopedic specialist in the United States who had advised him to immediately remove the cast because casting was improper for his injury. The man’s wife, who is a registered nurse, also contacted Assist America by telephone and again requested an air ambulance for her husband. Assist America reportedly rejected both requests and directed the man to return to the same clinic in Mexico for further treatment.
After Assist America denied the man’s requests for transportation back to the United States, he arranged for his own transportation but the delay in transporation and medical care ultimately led to the need for the above-the-knee amputation almost one month later, according to the man’s lawsuit. The federal jury deliberated for less than six hours after a nine-day trial before awarding the man in excess of $24.8 million that included $10 million in punitive damages. In a separate action, the federal jury awarded the man an additional $3 million for breach of contract.
In court filings, Assist America alleged: “Any alleged damages suffered … were caused by the actions of [the man] and resulted from [his] own negligence or inaction.” The defense attorney reportedly stated during closing arguments that the man was a large guy who was racing others on the zipline and who later rejected medical advice to stay in the local Mexican hospital for another day or two.
The man’s attorney told the jury, “They are printing money, ladies and gentlemen: $91 million of profit. And they couldn’t send an air ambulance to try and save [the man’s] leg?”
If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury (or worse) as a result of the negligence of an air ambulance, you should promptly consult with a medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your air ambulance negligence claim for you and represent you or your loved one in an air ambulance malpractice case, if appropriate.
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