Trials & Litigation

Defense stunned by $2.88M verdict in med-mal case over injection injury and suicide

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Dr. Kimber Eubanks says the injection-site injury that Joel Burnette at first complained of, according to family and friends, wasn’t reflected in medical records and hence didn’t exist.

But a Kansas jury apparently saw the situation differently, awarding his parents $2.88 million over what became a paralyzing injury that they say caused Burned to commit suicide last year at age 40, according to the Kansas City Star. The award against Eubanks and his PainCARE clinic is the largest in a Johnson County medical-malpractice case in at least 25 years.

Attorney Bruce Keplinger, who represented the defendants, said the March verdict will be appealed. “We were very disappointed, in fact, stunned,” he told the newspaper, calling the verdict “contrary to all the medical facts.”

Burnette began receiving spinal pain injections at the Overland Park clinic in 2008. By early 2009, a lump had developed at the injection site that was noticeable to his family and girlfriend, his parents contended. Then he developed meningitis that treating physicians said was caused by antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria. The plaintiffs said one clinic pain injection caused an infection. A subsequent pain shot allegedly passed through the infected area into the spinal cord, causing his meningitis.

Although he survived the potentially deadly MRSA infection, Burnette wound up in constant pain, impotent and unable to control his bowels or bladder, his family says. He also had trouble walking. He initially was a plaintiff in the medical malpractice litigation, but he committed suicide before the case was tried, the Star article recounts.

His parents said his medical condition led Burnette to take his own life. The defense pointed to a history of bipolar disorder and depression that previously had resulted in psychiatric admissions.

Even if Burnette’s parents prevail on appeal, the award, at most, likely will not exceed $1.67 million because of a $250,000 state-law cap on noneconomic damages for pain and suffering,

No amount of money will bring Burnette back, says his father, Vernon Burnette. However, the family hopes “to find something worthwhile to do with the money, something Joel would do with it,” he told the newspaper. “I think Joel deserves a legacy, something to help other people. We will do something where we know Joel will be smiling.”

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