Practice Areas

Tripler at fault, must pay family $9 million

Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 17, 2007

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

News PhotoThe family of a 3-year-old boy who suffered massive brain damage while being treated at Tripler Army Medical Center will receive more than $9.4 million under a ruling by a federal judge.

In a 67-page order yesterday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra found that Tripler was negligent in treating Parker Kohl, who is now blind, unable to walk, has to be fed through a tube and has an IQ of less than 30.

Tripler's mistake "caused Parker to suffer cardiorespiratory arrest, resulting in severe and irreversible brain damage," Ezra wrote.

The multimillion-dollar award is one of the largest against the 229-bed military hospital.

Last year, Ezra issued a record $16.5 million judgment in favor of the family of 2-year-old Islam Yasim Ibn Siddiq "Izzy" Peterson, who suffered severe brain damage after he was given carbon dioxide instead of oxygen at birth at Tripler in 2005.

That topped the previous high of $11.3 million, which was awarded in 1997 to the family of a baby who also suffered brain damage as a result of Tripler's negligence.

Parker Kohl's parents expressed relief when they were informed of yesterday's nonjury award, said attorney Rick Fried, who represents the family.

The couple, Karen and Darius Kohl, have been under "tremendous" stress from the round-the-clock care requirements of their son, Fried said.

Karen gained about 100 pounds while handling her son's needs as she and husband Darius, an Army sergeant, relocated their family from Schofield Barracks to Tacoma, Wash., to get better care for their son, Fried added.

The family plans to move to Nebraska next June when Darius Kohl is discharged.

"Their reaction is 'We want to move on and thank God we have the care provided for in terms of money for Parker,'" said Fried.

"They aren't holding any grudges against anybody. They just want to do the best they can with their life."

Tripler officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

HEART DEFECT

Assistant U.S. attorney Michael Burke, whose office represented Tripler, called the child's situation "very, very tragic" but said the office took the position that Parker was given quality care.

According to the March 2006 lawsuit, Parker Kohl was born a healthy baby in December 2003 at Tripler, but was later diagnosed with a heart defect.

The boy developed a respiratory infection that required hospitalization in May 2004. During the hospital stay, the boy's condition worsened.

In his ruling, Ezra said that Tripler's staff failed to monitor and respond appropriately to the boy's deteriorating condition.

Parker Kohl eventually went into cardiorespiratory arrest, resulting in "irreversible brain damage," Ezra wrote.

Had Tripler's staff taken appropriate steps, "Parker more likely than not would not have sustained severe and irreversible brain damage," Ezra wrote.

Added Fried: "He would never have been a football player, because of the limitations of his heart, but his mental capacity would be normal."

TROUBLES FOR HOSPITAL

Yesterday's ruling comes as healthcare practices at Tripler have come under increased scrutiny.

An Advertiser investigation in 2006 found that the Moanalua hillside hospital had the second most malpractice claims against it - 331 - of the Army's seven medical centers in the U.S.

Only William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, had more during the same period, with 517 claims.

Fried, who has handled some previous lawsuits against Tripler, said he has no criticism on the experience and training of Tripler's medical staff. But he said he believes that the negligence is due to "a failure in the chain of command" in which his client's condition wasn't monitored correctly.

"I'm not sure it's unique (to Tripler) but ... recently we've seen more problems here than we have at other facilities," said Fried, who said he has handled seven to 10 Tripler cases over the past decade.

LIFETIME OF EXPENSES

Under Ezra's ruling yesterday, Parker Kohl will receive nearly $1.4 million for lost future wages and more than $5.7 million for medical and other life care expenses.

His mother also will receive $375,000 for mental anguish and emotional distress and $400,000 for loss of care and companionship from her son. There is another $1.52 million in miscellaneous awards.

Fried said his attorney fees will be 25 percent of the total award, about $2.35 million. That fee is set by federal law.