St. Louis University and one of its doctors lost their appeal of a jury verdict that totaled almost $17,000,000. The overwhelming percentage of that sum was made up of punitive damages.
Dr. Henry Walden was Brian Koon’s primary care physician. Koon began to suffer from chronic back pain after a fall in his home. Initial efforts to treat the pain with ibuprofen proved inadequate. So, pursuant to Mr. Koon’s request for pain medication, Dr. Walden began prescribing hydrocodone. Within 30 days, Koon informed Walden that he was taking twice the prescribed dosage and needed a refill. Walden prescribed more, and later increased the dosage, but also referred Koon to an orthopedic surgeon and a pain management doctor.
Within 90 days of the initial prescription, Koon began complaining to Walden about withdrawal symptoms. Rather than modify the ongoing dosage amounts, Dr. Walden simply noted Koon’s plan to slowly cut back. Within six additional months, Koon was being prescribed both hydrocodone and oxycontin, but continued to have an increased tolerance for the narcotics without sufficient pain relief. Koon and Dr. Walden discussed the risks of dependence, but decided to continue on with the course of treatment, even adding more addictive “immediate-release” oxycodone to the regime.
Four years in to the events described above, Koon was diagnosed with opioid addiction by a third-party physician. Shortly thereafter, Koon’s pharmacy expressed their concern to Walden and began denying Koon refills. Koon’s wife admitted him to a rehabilitation facility.
What is most fascinating about this case is that Koon never overdosed and there is no mention of any loss of employment. Moreover, while Dr. Walden’s professional behavior was clearly inadequate, there was no suggestion that the doctor was acting with malice toward Koon. In other words, the massive jury award appears to appreciate the utter misery, fear, and physical suffering addiction imposes upon its victims. And as a legal matter, it is certainly a wake-up call to the treating physicians dealing with this opioid epidemic.
If you believe you have become addicted to pain medications, please be sure to get medical assistance immediately. Legal advice can wait until you are safe and receiving proper professional care.