The award for the family was reduced to $500,000 in keeping with Mississippi’s damage caps
Merkel & Cocke, PA won a $1.5 million judgment on behalf of the estate and family of Vanessa Jernigan, whose untimely death was caused by Delta Regional Medical Center’s (DRMC) breach of care. Because Mississippi law enacts caps on damages, the total award was reduced to $500,000.
What happened to Vanessa Jernigan?
Vanessa Jernigan, a 45-year-old Black woman, went to the emergency room of DRMC on January 21, 2017, for an allergic reaction to Lisinopril. The reaction caused her tongue and upper airway to swell (angioedema). It was severe enough that she was placed on a ventilator. Ms. Jernigan was discharged on January 28th and returned to the DRMC emergency department on January 29th, with shortness of breath and chest pain.
She spent about 5 hours in the emergency department, where she was given a cocktail of medications as well as various tests and procedures. Those procedures found “low potassium, low oxygen, high CO2, high blood pressure, [an] abnormal EKG, chest pain, elevated heart rate, and stridorous breath sounds.” And yet, she was discharged to her home that evening around dinner time. Just over 24 hours later, Ms. Jernigan’s family members found her unresponsive in her bedroom.
She never woke up again. Vanessa Jernigan passed away.
How DRMC failed Vanessa Jernigan
During the trial, multiple members of the DRMC staff testified to mistakes that were made in Ms. Jernigan’s care. One RN ordered Nitroglycerin and Aspirin (per protocol for chest pain), but admitted that Ms. Jernigan’s medical records did not reflect whether the drugs were given. Another RN testified that “the emergency department had failed to record any vital signs or assessment for Ms. Jernigan for more than an hour prior to her discharge.”
The fact that DRMC did not admit Ms. Jernigan for observation is a clear breach of protocol and accepted standards of care. The medical expert who testified on behalf of the family pointed out “that 46% of patients who have an allergic reaction to medication (which is the reason Ms. Jernigan had been hospitalized the week before) suffer from a recurrence of angioedema within one month, and this was not considered by the emergency department” on that day.
This, along with DRMC’s failure to account for the abnormal EKG, the labored breathing, and the signs of an “impending cardiopulmonary crisis,” all point to a fatal breach of duty and care by DRMC. Had DRMC’s emergency department personnel followed protocol and not negligent dismissed our clients’ mother from the hospital – had they kept her for observation – Vanessa Jernigan may still be alive today. In the words of the Court, “had Vanessa Jernigan been admitted as required by the standard of care on January 29, 2017, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, she would not have died on January 30, 2017.”
Instead, her three daughters lost the only parent they ever knew.
Why this medical negligence case had to be tried under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act
DRMC is a “political subdivision” of the State of Mississippi, not a private hospital. As such, we had to file our wrongful death claim under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, which comes with certain limitations:
- A cap on damages ($500,000)
- The inability to sue for punitive damages
- The inability to have a trial by jury
- A shorter statute of limitations (1 year)
This is why we could not sue the individual doctors who failed Vanessa Jernigan for medical malpractice; instead, we had to sue the State of Mississippi, which takes on the burden in MTCA claims. Claims against the government are challenging, and we are proud of our success on behalf of Ms. Jernigan’s family.
We know that no amount of money will ever make up for the loss they have experienced, but justice is about more than compensation; it is about accountability. It is about holding parties responsible for their actions when those actions cause irreparable harm.
At Merkel & Cocke, PA, we fight for justice every single day for our clients. If you or a loved one has suffered because of medical negligence, we are here to help. If you must bring a claim under the MTCA, we have the experience, skills, and track record you want on your side. To schedule your free consultation with a Mississippi wrongful death attorney from our firm, please call us at 662-627-9641 or complete our contact form. We maintain offices in Jackson, Clarksdale, Oxford and Greenville, and serve the entirety of the Gulf Coast.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975, Mr. Cocke and Mr. Merkel established Merkel & Cocke, P.A. in 1982. Since that time the emphasis of Mr. Cocke’s practice has progressed toward medical malpractice. At the present time his practice is exclusively devoted to handling medical negligence cases for the plaintiff, either as a result of direct contact by the client or on referral from other attorneys who are not familiar with the handling of medical negligence cases. Mr. Cocke was selected Best Lawyer of the year for 2012 and 2014 in The Memphis area in the field of Medical Malpractice and has been selected a Best Lawyer and Super Lawyer every year since 2006. Learn more about John Hartwell Cocke here.