By Rachele E. Leonard
A Spartanburg County jury has ordered a long-term care facility to pay more than $1 million to the family of a former resident who went into insulin shock due to a medication mistake.
The family of Pearl Sinclair claimed negligence at White Oak Manor—Spartanburg left the woman with permanent brain damage. After a five day trial in the Court of Common Pleas in Spartanburg County, jurors agreed with the plaintiff’s arguments, awarding $50,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
White Oak Manor’s attorney, Matthew Henderson of Spartanburg, said he plans to bring motions for a new trial and to reduce the punitive damages before deciding whether to appeal.
Sinclair, who died in August at age 87, lived at White Oak Manor from October 2003 through May 2004 before moving to a facility in Inman. Her daughter, Elaine Clark, said her mother lost all long-term memory after recovering from the shock and that the family was pleased with the jury’s decision.
“We wanted the community to know what happened to our mother so it wouldn’t happen to other people,” she said.
Doug Cecil, president of White Oak Management Inc., one of the three related defendants in the lawsuit, said he was disappointed and surprised by the amount of the punitive damages.
“We admitted throughout the whole thing that we had made an error and we were extremely sorry for the error, but it was made and we don’t challenge that,” Cecil said. “But we believe standards at White Oak Manor—Spartanburg, the standards that it operates under 24 hours a day, seven days a week, provide outstanding care to its residents.”
Cecil said the employee who administered the insulin shot no longer works for the facility.
Spartanburg attorney Gary Poliakoff, who represented Sinclair’s family, said Sinclair suffered neglect at White Oak Manor including unattended falls, dehydration and weight loss. According to the lawsuit, Cecil, a diabetic, was given a shot of another patient’s insulin on top of her regular oral medication on May 2, 2004. . She experienced acute hypoglycemia that sent her into an insulin shock.
No physician was notified, the lawsuit claimed.
Six hours later, Cecil was transferred to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, where she spent five days in an intensive care unit before being discharged.
“We believe that this was a serious case and we believe that what the jury did was absolutely appropriate,” Poliakoff said.
Henderson, White Oak Manor’s lawyer, said he was appalled at the size of the punitive damages.
“I personally think it was excessive, uncalled for and inappropriate,” he said, adding he respectfully disagreed with the jury’s decision.
In April, Gov. Mark Sanford signed into law a bill that places a $350,000 cap on punitive damages in most single medical malpractice cases.
The new law doesn’t apply to the Sinclair lawsuit because it was filed prior to July 1, 2005.
Common Pleas Judge Derham Cole presided over the case. County offices were closed Friday, but Cole arranged to hold court during the Veterans Day holiday to try the case as scheduled.
White Oak Manor Inc. operates eight assisted living facilities in South Carolina and six in North Carolina.
The Spartanburg facility, located on Pearl Street, has space for 192 residents.