A Spokane jury awarded $813,000 this week to a woman whose foot was amputated following the wrong diagnosis by a local physician.
It was the second time a jury heard Darlene Turner’s medical malpractice suit against now-retired Dr. Nathan Stime. The first action, in 2008, was declared a mistrial after jurors made what a judge perceived as racist comments against the woman’s attorney, Mark Kamitomo.
“There is no question that justice was delayed, but it wasn’t denied in the end,” Kamitomo said.
“All I wanted from the start was to have Mrs. Turner get a fair shake,” he said. “But with the comments and the strength of the case, we didn’t feel like she got a fair shake.”
Turner first went to Stime in March 2004. She alleged that Stime failed to conduct an appropriate physical when he diagnosed her as having terminal cancer. She actually was suffering from pneumonia, which caused her to lapse into a coma and later resulted in the amputation of her left foot.
Stime, who retired two years ago, had been disciplined by state regulators in other cases for erroneous diagnoses and providing methadone to drug-addicted patients, according to state records.
The case first went to trial in 2008 and the jury reached its decision on Dec. 7 – the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor – in favor of Stime. During deliberations leading up to a verdict in favor of Stime, three women and two men on the jury disparaged Kamitomo, referring to his Japanese descent when calling him “Mr. Kamikaze” and “Mr. Miyagi,” a character in the movie “The Karate Kid,” among other names, court records say.
Superior Court Judge Robert Austin called for a new trial after two jurors came forward and revealed the comments. One juror said that because the verdict was going to be read on Pearl Harbor day in 2008, the remarks made about Kamitomo were “almost appropriate.”
Stime and his attorney, Brian Rekofke, lost an appeal of Austin’s decision to grant a new trial in 2009.“I was disappointed that Judge Austin didn’t have a hearing. I just thought there should have been more justification before we labeled that first jury racist,” Rekofke said Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen oversaw the second trial.
“There were specific efforts made to not let the (second) jury know about the first trial and to try to ferret out people who may have had knowledge of the first trial,” Kamitomo said. “The end result after nine years and two trials was that the jury finally found the doctor was the problem.”
The jury awarded Turner damages for past and future medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and the loss of a consortium – which essentially compensates her for changes to her lifestyle as a result of the amputation and medical problems.
The state’s Quality Assurance Commission fined Stime $2,000 in 2009 for prescribing several addicted patients methadone, including one 24-year-old man who died from an overdose. State records show the federal Drug Enforcement Agency forced Stime to stop prescribing methadone to addicted patients in 2008.
The state also fined Stime twice in 2007 for failing to diagnose one patient’s rectal cancer over a period of six years and for failing to recognize the cardiac symptoms of another patient who later had a heart attack.
Rekofke said the sanctions had no bearing on Stime giving up the practice of medicine, saying he simply reached retirement age. The attorney also doesn’t believe a new jury made the difference in the outcome of the case.
“The plaintiffs had a new expert. I had a new expert,” he said. “They did a nice job on their case.”