8.3 Million Against John Cochran VA Hospital in St. Louis, MO

In 2013, an army veteran and longtime postal worker from St. Louis was awarded $8.3 million in damages following a routine procedure in 2009 at John Cochran VA Medical Center. Dirk Askew suffered a severe brain injury and lost his leg following a routine medical procedure. Many ask, how can this be? Certainly, Dirk’s story is one of the many “frivolous” lawsuits brought by personal injury attorneys in a plan for someone to get rich? After hearing Dirk’s horrible odyssey, you may feel differently:

Dirk’s story is tragic, but more than that, it was more likely than not– avoidable. When Dirk was 43, he had a cardiac stent inserted at Cochran VA Hospital in February of 2009 after complaining of chest pain. What started out as a routine procedure to have a stent inserted has left Dirk paralyzed and with severe brain damage. Soon following the routine procedure, he developed swelling and bleeding at the surgical site in his upper right thigh. After a week, he was readmitted to Cochran and had surgery to repair an artery at the wound site where an infection was discovered.

Dirk’s attorney, David Damick, alleged there was an unnecessary delay of several days before a corrective surgery was performed and that surgeons improperly used infected tissue to patch the artery. According to the suit, further negligence by the Cochran medical team led to significant blood loss causing severe brain injury. Dirk, a father of three, is not paralyzed and mostly noncommunicative.

A two-day trial resulted in Dirk being awarded $6.8 million and his wife, his primary caregiver, being awarded $1.5 million. “She did a good job of raising her kids. She is now raising a child who is her husband, who will never grow up”, said Askew’s attorney David Damick, “Sometimes he is very depressed when he realizes what he can’t do.” Damick said the Askews are hoping to move from their south St. Louis home they share with their daughter to a wheelchair-accessible home. “If the government pays, it will enable them after more than four years to get the care that Dirk needs and a little bit of relief for his wife,” said Damick.

The $8.3 million verdict is the latest claim of negligence at John Cochran after years of problems with staffing and sterilization. A Florida man sued the hospital in February claimed he was unnecessarily treated with radiation and chemotherapy for months after a misdiagnosis of lymphoma—that case is ongoing.

A nurse in Cochran’s intensive care unit was banned from treating patients after injecting one patient with a potentially lethal dose of the painkiller fentanyl and other “egregious acts resulting in death or near death in patients” in 2010, according to a report from VA Office of Inspector General.

Another investigation into the 2010 death of a 58-year old man found a nurse did not recognize or report the man receiving kidney dialysis had become unresponsive during a five-hour treatment session.

More than 1,800 veterans were notified in 2010 that they might have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis, or other viruses because of inadequate sterilization procedures in the dental clinic, but no illness has been linked to the potential exposures.

The hospital shut down its operating rooms in February of 2011 after rust stains were found on surgical equipment. The rooms reopened after a month of cleaning and replacement of faulty equipment. Since then, the hospital has hired additional nurses and staff and opened a $7 million sterilization center.

Every patient deserves timely attention in a clean, sterile environment when they go to the hospital. In Dirk’s situation, it appears that irreparable harm was caused to him due to a lack of prompt attention to his condition and improper care. When medical providers are negligent and cause permanent damage or death due to those negligent actions, they must be held responsible. In medical situations, a “mistake” can cost someone their life or quality of life as opposed to a mistake another one of us may make in our job, i.e., customer service and accidentally overcharge a client—that mistake can usually be corrected with no permanent harm done to the client. But failing to treat an infection that leads to amputation?

Medical malpractice can be a challenging area of law to practice. It takes intelligent attorneys and much perseverance on behalf of the attorney and the injured. I truly want to believe that all doctors and nurses are conscientious and really go into the medical profession because they care about people. Furthermore, a veterans’ hospital should be providing top-notch care for veterans. Veterans have sacrificed in service of our country, and we owe them great medical care. We want to believe that all doctors and nurses are very good to excellent, so when we hear about these kinds of mistakes, it is very unsettling to all of us. But each of us who goes to the hospital has the basic right to feel safe that the medical teams there will not harm us or expose us to infection.

Congrats to Dirk Askew and his wife, Beulah, for having the courage to stand up for injustice. And congratulations to David Damick, my friend, who had the courage and tenacity to file this lawsuit, work this case up, and take it to trial. Trial is time intensive and difficult for the victims. It takes a great deal of courage to go to trial. Often, people misunderstand the process and how difficult it really is to be a plaintiff. A person has to be of strong character and resolve to go to trial and be scrutinized by others. While the press frequently calls personal injury lawsuits “frivolous” and portrays plaintiffs and plaintiff attorneys as “ambulance chasers,” struggles and hardships often the struggle and hardships that clients go through to prove their cases are discounted and underrecognized. I have met some beautiful people as clients over the years who simply wanted what is fair or they wanted an unsafe practice to stop.

At The Cagle Law Firm, we understand that injustices occur every day, small and large. There are just some injustices that have to be addressed legally. When negligence causes permanent damage to an individual or death, it must be investigated and addressed. The strength it took for the Askew’s to proceed only makes the hospital systems safer for others. Hopefully, the verdict will be paid, and Dirk will be able to receive the medical care he truly needs.

If you have been the victim of negligence, whether in a medical scenario or an auto accident, gaining information is a wise first step. Looking out for your best interest is what we do at The Cagle Law Firm, so call us today at (314) 276-1681.

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The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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