After a doctor’s own admission of faulty care, most jurors never doubted that a woman deserved compensation after enduring a medical nightmare — but they did argue over how much money to award, according to one juror.
After six hours of deliberation, a Gila County grand jury settled on $7.3 million. That is how much Payson Healthcare Management must pay Lori Sandretto after she developed a potentially life-threatening infection that left her in chronic pain after multiple knee surgeries in Payson roughly four years ago.
The money will cover $3.5 million in medical bills and other economic damage, including lost wages and loss of enjoyment of life.
Complications from the knee infection have left Sandretto with enduring pain, an atypical gait and muscle loss.
Sandretto’s lawyers argued the infection could have likely been prevented, but doctors failed to communicate.
“Communication is care,” said Art Lloyd, one of Sandretto’s two attorneys.
Lloyd said a breakdown in communication among doctors and lower-level practitioners, including a physician’s assistant, left Sandretto “all crippled up.”
Don Stevens, an attorney representing Payson Healthcare Management (PHM), said the corporation is evaluating whether it will file an appeal. Post-trial matters prevented Stevens from commenting on the case further. However, Stevens said it was important to realize PHM is the only corporation involved in this case.
“(PHM) is a separate legal entity from Payson Regional Medical Center,” he said. “It is not part of Payson Regional Medical Center. In addition, Payson Regional Medical Center was not a party to the lawsuit and Ms. Sandretto’s lawyers dismissed Payson Regional Medical Center.”
Also, none of the doctors that cared for Sandretto were on trial in this case.
Sandretto’s knee injury stemmed from a fall at Main Street Veterinary Clinic in 2008. Sandretto, a receptionist, was cleaning up when she slipped and fell, Lloyd said.
She had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, but complications soon followed.
Unhappy with the doctor that performed her initial surgery, Sandretto switched. This doctor drained her knee and ordered physical therapy.
Still in pain, Sandretto went back to the doctor and got an MRI. He determined she still has tears in her knee, Lloyd said.
On Sept. 5, 2008, 49-year-old Sandretto had another knee surgery. During surgery, the doctor noted inflammation and degeneration of cartilage in her knee. He took a fluid sample, but it came back negative for infection.
After five days, the pain and swelling returned.
Sandretto called her doctor and he referred her to his physician’s assistant (PA).
The PA told Sandretto she had an infection and gave her antibiotics.
Her knee grew increasingly red and swollen, prompting Sandretto to seek help in the emergency room.
Sandretto’s doctor stopped by the hospital and ordered another type of antibiotic.
Days went by, but Sandretto’s knee didn’t get any better.
After a week, Sandretto finally got in to see the PA again, and he decided to keep her on antibiotics.
“No one is taking her seriously,” Lloyd said.
Finally, a month after her second knee surgery, the PA drew fluid from Sandretto’s knee and sent it off for testing.
“Now everybody agrees that a knee joint infection is a surgical emergency. You have to get to surgery immediately to clean it out,” Lloyd said. “Especially if it is staph and double, double especially if it is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) … it is nasty.”
When the test came back positive for MRSA, doctors again put her on antibiotics.
At trial, the PA claimed he told the doctor about Sandretto’s infection. However, the doctor testified he was never told, Lloyd said.
Finally, Sandretto sees the doctor who recognizes she needs surgery to wash out the infection, Lloyd said. Due to the infection, however, Sandretto also needed a blood transfusion.
“I mean it was killing her, MRSA will kill you,” Lloyd said.
On the stand, a doctor admitted the standard of care was not met and that they had dropped the ball.
A juror told the Roundup that admission, along with other evidence, convinced most jurors the medical professionals had made a mistake.
“It was flabbergasting to me to think that the communication between a PA and a doctor could be so lax,” the juror said.
The defense’s claims that Sandretto did not do her part in recovery seemed outlandish, the juror said.
After surgery, Sandretto was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Prescott. No one at the trial could explain why Sandretto was transferred or who ordered it, Lloyd said.
When she got there, doctors recognized she needed to have her knee flushed out again.
Finally, these treatments controlled the infection. However, the damage from the infection required Sandretto to get a knee replacement.
Today, she lives in unrelenting pain, Lloyd said.
Lloyd wonders if simple medical staff communications could have prevented the ordeal.
“If they are going to be in business and have a big clinic, I would hope they would finally put in communication systems,” he said. “When a patient calls up after knee surgery and says it is draining, that should be a huge red flag that says, at least, ‘We need to look at it.’”
While most of the jury agreed on the judgment, two jurors did not.
One juror said it was difficult to derive how much compensation Sandretto should receive.
“It seemed like a shot in the dark,” they said.