EAST ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court upheld a nearly $30 million verdict for an Illinois man who was forced to undergo a kidney transplant after being cared for by an East St. Louis health clinic.
The case details a series of failures in care for Kevin Clanton, now 39, but the decision means a judge will have to decide how much responsibility Clanton had for his condition, the appeals court said Thursday.
Clanton first saw nurse practitioner Denise Jordan at an East St. Louis clinic run by the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation in 2008, after his high blood pressure caused him to fail a preemployment physical exam. Jordan diagnosed him with obesity and hypertension. At the next visit, a week later, she determined that the hypertension was severe, gave him some sample medication and told him to come back in a week, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel wrote in 2017.
But he didn’t come back for more than two years, nor take his medicine, until another preemployment screening showed high blood pressure, Rosenstengel wrote. She gave him more medication and again told him to come back in a week. Three weeks later, he returned. His high blood pressure was worse and his vision was blurred. She sent him to the emergency room when medication did not lower his blood pressure enough, Rosenstengel wrote.
Nine days later, Clanton returned and Jordan prescribed three blood pressure medications but didn’t order lab tests, Rosenstengel wrote. Over a series of subsequent appointments, Jordan frequently labeled Clanton “noncompliant” for his failure to take medication, but didn’t follow up on lab results, consult a doctor or fully explain Clanton’s condition, Rosenstengel wrote.
It wasn’t until a trip by ambulance to Barnes-Jewish Hospital on Dec. 22, 2012, that Clanton learned of his kidney damage and that “high blood pressure” is the same as “hypertension,” Rosenstengel wrote.
By February 2013, he’d been diagnosed with Stage V chronic kidney disease. He began dialysis that April and was on the waiting list for a new kidney that November. Two years later, he received a new kidney.
Clanton may need more dialysis and more kidney transplants, the opinion says. He sued in 2015.
Government lawyers argued that Clanton was doing well and testified that his life has largely returned to normal.
But after a bench trial in October 2016, Rosenstengel awarded Clanton $29,962,296 in March of 2017. The U.S. appealed.
Last week’s opinion, by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, said that Rosenstengel should have compared “Clanton’s understanding of his condition to that of a reasonable person in his situation.” Although Jordan didn’t tell him about the severity of his condition, Clanton had two employment-related physicals that showed that he had dangerously high blood pressure and was “seriously unwell,” the opinion says.
Troy Walton and Steve Telken, two of the lawyers who represented Clanton, said Wednesday that Rosenstengel had already done that comparison and predicted that the damage award would not change.
Walton said that although the damage award was high, “The malpractice here was glaring.” The doctor who supervised Jordan said that had she consulted him, Clanton would have been immediately sent to a nephrologist and would not have lost his kidney.
He also stressed that Clanton followed Jordan’s advice to take his medication during later appointments, but didn’t earlier on because he wasn’t educated about his condition. “Hypertension is the silent killer,” he said, as it has no obvious symptoms early in the disease. Sufferers need to take medication consistently and forever, he said.
Telken said Clanton would likely need two more donor kidneys during his lifetime.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday. Jordan, reached by phone Wednesday, did not respond to questions about the case.