$1.3 million awarded for medical negligence


A Howard Circuit Court jury has awarded a North Laurel woman nearly $1.3 million in damages in a medical negligence suit, making it the largest civil judgment in the history of the county courts.

A jury of six women awarded Candy Zulick and her husband, James Zulick, $1,297,000 in damages against the Columbia Medical Plan and Dr. Jon Minford of Columbia after a six-day trial that ended last week.

The Zulicks sued Dr. Minford and the company in May 1992, contending that they failed to treat a blood disorder that damaged Mrs. Zulick's liver to the degree that she may need a transplant. The suit did not request a specific amount of damages.

Matthew Zimmerman, an attorney for the Zulicks, said the award is a surprise, considering the conservative nature of most Howard jurors. "Howard County is not known for large verdicts," Mr. Zimmerman said. "In fact, it's known for just the opposite."

Fran Soistman, spokesman for the medical plan, said the company most likely will appeal the judgment, in part because of the size of the award. "We're disappointed in the magnitude of the judgment," Mr. Soistman said. "But we recognize it's an unfortunate situation for the patient."

Even if the judgment is upheld, the Zulicks will only collect about half of the award because of a state law that limits noneconomic damages to $350,000. The bulk of the jury's award -- $950,000 -- was for noneconomic damages, covering pain and suffering and loss of marital relations.

The jury also awarded the Zulicks $347,000 for economic damages, covering lost wages, and past and future medical damages.

, Mrs. Zulick, who declined to

comment on the case, suffers from polycythemia vera, a disorder in which a person has too much of certain blood cells; nosebleeds or an enlarged spleen may result.

Mrs. Zulick, 32, became pregnant in January 1988, which could have complicated the disorder if her hematocrit level -- the percentage of red blood cells in blood -- was not carefully monitored, the suit stated.

A specialist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who treated Mrs. Zulick recommended that the woman's hematocrit level should stay in the range of 41 to 45, the suit stated.

Mrs. Zulick had a hematocrit level of 47 in November 1988, about a month after giving birth to her daughter, but Dr. Minford did not inform her of the reading. The woman had a hematocrit level of 58.3 in December 1988, but Dr. Minford again failed to notify her, the suit stated.

Mrs. Zulick learned of the readings through her obstetrician, who immediately referred her to Hopkins, where she underwent intensive treatment to reverse the effects of the disorder, the suit stated.

But Mrs. Zulick continues to suffer from chronic and permanent damage to her liver, the suit stated.

Attorneys for Dr. Minford and the medical plan denied the Zulicks' allegations in court papers, arguing that their clients are not responsible for Mrs. Zulick's condition.

Michael Baxter, a Baltimore attorney for Dr. Minford and the medical plan, said he was surprised that the jury dismissed testimony from a national specialist who said Mrs. Zulick was treated appropriately.

"I can only conclude that the jury dropped the ball," Mr. Baxter said. "It was a close-call case."

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