May 30, 2022

It was recently announced that Denver Health Medical Center and the University of Colorado (collectively, “Denver Health”) settled a family’s Colorado medical malpractice wrongful death case arising from the unnecessary death of a 24-year-old snowboarder for $387,000, which was the maximum Denver Health could be held liable for under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act on the date of the young man’s death (December 2, 2020).

According to court records, the decedent had a snowboarding accident on November 20, 2020 after which he was airlifted to Denver Health. On November 27, 2020, his left kidney was surgically removed after which he continued to bleed internally. Despite ongoing internal bleeding, the hospital discharged the young man on December 2, 2020. Later that day, he collapsed and died. An autopsy determined his cause of death was internal bleeding.

His mother picked him up in the hospital parking lot at the time of discharge at which time she observed, “When I got out of the car, he was already bleeding through his shirt, through his really thick dressing pads, and the nurse just said, ‘Oh, looks like he sprung a leak.'” The mother stated in a later interview, “A 24-year old should not go into a hospital because of a kidney injury and die after being released to his mother’s care. They messed up by letting him go too soon.”

Claims against public hospitals in Colorado, including Denver Health Medical Center, are subject to governmental immunity. State law provides that no matter how serious the injury or even death due to medical negligence, public hospitals are liable only up to the limit on damages ($387,000 at the time of the snowboarder’s death). A medical malpractice lawyer not involved in the snowboarder’s family’s Colorado wrongful death case stated with regard to the medical malpractice damages cap: “No matter how bad the injury, whether it’s death, quadriplegia, the worst injuries or the worst losses a family can go through, public entity hospitals will never pay more than $387,000, because that is how the laws are written in the state … $387,000 for a significant injury or death is never going to make a family or a person whole, so I don’t believe it’s fair.”

Colorado law provides that the governmental immunity cap increases every four years based on inflation. On January 1, 2022, the governmental immunity cap became $424,000.

The Colorado Hospital Association released the following statement on governmental immunity caps: “Colorado hospitals put the care and safety of every patient at the forefront of everything we do. Hospital staff work tirelessly to ensure that the care provided is world-class, and Colorado is fortunate to have access to some of the best medical care in the country. The death of any patient is incredibly difficult for everyone involved. It would be inappropriate for CHA to comment on the outcome of this case or the litigation that followed. Colorado hospitals, some of which are governmental entities, make every effort to follow Colorado law, including those governing liability.”

Source

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