Seth Williamson case settlemen

Ross Hunter <rossgroups@...>

A friend sent me this story rom yesterday’s Roanoke Times. It’s an interesting, but sad story.


Joseph Seth Williamson
Died after hernia surgery.
Seth Williamson device case settlement 

Dated: Friday, February 20, 2015 7:10 pm 
By Jeff Sturgeon jeff.sturgeon@... 981-3251  

The children of radio personality Joseph Seth Williamson will collect $500,000 from the maker of an infusion pump in use at the time of his death at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, according to papers unsealed Friday in Roanoke federal court.

The settlement ends a product liability case that pitted Williamson’s daughters — Deirdre Jain, 35, of Fairfax and Emily Williamson, 34, of Roanoke — against the corporations responsible for the Hospira LifeCare PCA 3 Infusion System.

Williamson, a voice heard frequently on WVTF, died in 2011 at the hospital near Blacksburg. He had gone in Oct. 5 with abdominal pain, underwent emergency hernia repair surgery Oct. 6 and died early Oct. 7 while hooked to the pump.

Shortly after his death, the hospital focused attention on the pump’s performance and programming. Although it had been designed and marketed as an improved device to prevent medication errors, it had dispensed excessive amounts of painkiller to Williamson after a programming error by hospital nurses, court papers said.

First, the daughters took action against the hospital. The hospital paid the daughters in a confidential settlement of medical malpractice claims in 2012. The parties handled it quietly in an adjacent county with sealed records.

In 2013, the daughters filed a federal lawsuit against Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Illinois, which brought the PCA 3 to market, and Abbott Laboratories Inc. based north of Chicago, which once owned Hospira. That case settled Friday.

The companies said in court papers that they settled the case to avoid the expense and inconvenience of a trial. Both companies said they continue to deny liability for Williamson’s death.

But in addition to paying the women $500,000 and a total settlement of $900,000 to cover legal expenses, the companies pledged to investigate 50 reported incidents involving misprogramming of the pump, court papers said.

In suing Hospira and Abbott, the daughters said the pump had inadequate operating instructions and warnings and that that issue had led to hospital nurses misprogramming the device. Williamson received five times as much painkiller as his doctor prescribed, causing an overdose that killed him, the suit said.

But defense lawyers said the daughters failed to tie Williamson’s death to any issue with the adequacy of the pump’s instructions and warnings. They said the instructions and warnings were adequate.

The defense also argued that hospital nurses knew the well-understood perils of misprogramming an infusion pump and failed to adequately monitor Williamson after hooking him to the misprogrammed machine.

In fact, he should have been checked at least seven times for pain relief, sedation, breathing quality, nausea and itching between 9:22 when nurses connected the pump to increase his pain medicine and 1:10 a.m. when they found him unresponsive, according to Polly Zimmerman, a nursing expert brought in to assess the incident. But nurses checked him just three times during that period, Zimmerman said in court papers.

Two hours and 10 minutes passed between his second-to-last check and the check that found him nonresponsive, which Zimmerman called a departure from normal nursing care standards. Zimmerman also opined in favor of the pump, saying its instructions were clear and that “my nursing students at a public community college consistently are able to understand and independently apply these instructions with minimal assistance during their basic nursing education.”

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski said the pre-trial settlement made sense to him because Williamson’s daughters had no guarantee they would have won at trial against the pump companies. “It could have gone either way,” the judge said.

In their favor, the daughters had a discharge report by Williamson’s physician that said he received 12.5 milligrams of Dilaudid versus the 2.5 milligrams prescribed.

On the other hand, Williamson’s autopsy found that he died of heart disease. The 355-pound Williamson had a variety of health problems, court papers said.

Of note, his system contained a therapeutic dose of painkiller in his system when autopsied, according to the report from the Roanoke medical examiner’s office. The conflicting claims that Williamson received too much painkiller and that he died of heart disease were never resolved.

Williamson’s daughters, who appeared in court Friday, told the judge they agreed with the settlement. Plaintiff’s attorney Robert Hall is entitled to $360,000, or 40 percent of the money the companies will pay, plus about $40,000 toward case expenses. After those deductions, each daughter will receive about $250,000. The daughters previously advanced Hall about $40,000 toward case expenses.

Lawyers for pump companies and the daughters tried without success to keep the settlement confidential.

On Jan. 26, the lawyers presented their settlement of the federal lawsuit against Abbott and Hospira under seal to a state court judge, David Williams of Patrick County Circuit Court, who granted his approval. That move led to a dramatic conflict between the lawyers and Urbanski, who accused the lawyers of attempting to improperly seal the settlement from public view.

“You all knew the federal court was not going to allow you to put this settlement under seal,” Urbanski told the lawyers two days later. “Without letting me know and while my case is pending, you all went running off in Patrick County and got this settlement approved down there without me knowing about it while a case is pending here in federal court and you’ve done it under seal to hide these issues from the public. I’m appalled.

“The settlement you just got approved in Patrick County is void,” Urbanski said.

State law requires court review of any wrongful death settlement in the same court where the parties filed the underlying lawsuit, the judge said. During the review, the settlement must become public, Urbanski said as he ordered the lawyers to return the matter to his court.

Friday, with the lawyers back in his court, Urbanski refused to seal any part of the settlement document and released it publicly. A lawyer for The Roanoke Times appeared at the hearing to argue against keeping any part of the settlement confidential and to ask for full disclosure.

That ended the federal-level litigation over Williamson’s death against the pump maker.

But a seal still protects from public view the hospital’s 2012 settlement with Williamson’s daughters. It is under seal in Patrick County Circuit Court at the request of the lawyers for Hospira, Abbott and Williamson’s daughters, who were free under state law to choose to process the claim in any county’s state court.

It was sealed by Williams, the same Patrick County judge who approved and sealed the $900,000 federal settlement — until Urbanski told the lawyers he would not let them do that.

Urbanski, as he noted Friday, has had no control over the 2012 hospital case, which was never before him. He said Friday he hasn’t seen the terms of that settlement either.

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