Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, November 5, 2002


Page 4


Panel Recommends County Settle Medical Negligence Suit for $150,000


By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer


The Los Angeles County Claims Board yesterday recommended paying $150,000 to a woman whose hand was amputated after county doctors failed to treat a minor complication in time.

The board recommended settling the claim of Barbara Vivion, who alleged doctors at UCLA’s Harbor Medical Center were negligent in failing to detect an arterial clog that led to the amputation of her right hand and part of her forearm.

Vivion, then 73, entered the hospital for intestinal surgery in August of 2000. In preparation for the surgery, county employees inserted an arterial line—a catheter in the artery used to monitor blood pressure and take samples—in her right wrist. This caused a blood clot to form, blocking blood flow. County documents say that although blood clots are a known risk of using such catheters, the hospital staff did not remove the catheter for two days, by which time Vivion’s hand was mottled in color and cool to the touch.

The next day, hospital staff noticed that there was no pulse in her hand, and the day after, observed that her hand was cold and purple, but it wasn’t until four days after the catheter was inserted that the hospital staff ordered a consultation about vascular surgery to correct the problem. Tests showed that two of the arteries in her forearm were blocked. After anti-clotting drugs and a vein graft failed to correct the problem, Vivion’s right hand and parts of her forearm were removed. She sued the hospital and the county, alleging negligence and demanding damages, medical expenses, loss of earnings and the cost of the lawsuit.

The Claims Board recommended giving Vivion $150,000 to settle the lawsuit and assume her Medi-Cal lien of not more than $12,516.99. With court costs and attorney fees, the total cost to the county of settling the lawsuit would be $180,713.42. Because the proposed settlement is for more than $100,000, the county Board of Supervisors must approve it.

  The county will also settle with a Montebello family that alleges sheriff’s deputies terrorized them by breaking into their house before dawn with an invalid search warrant, using excessive force to look for someone who actually was in county jail at the time.

Rita Hawkins, her husband, Thomas Hawkins, her son and his daughter sued Montebello police for allegedly lying and omitting information in order to get a search warrant naming Hawkins’ son, Nathaniel. The warrant said Nathaniel Hawkins was a gang member with a history of violence who was concealing illegal weapons in the home.

The family, in its complaint, said a Montebello Police Department employee made up the weapons information to get the warrant.

The Hawkinses sued the county as well, over the role of sheriffs’ deputies in executing the warrant.

Sheriff’s deputies say that in the early morning hours of March 24, 2000, they played a recorded warning over a loudspeaker outside the Hawkins home, warning that they planned to execute a search warrant. But the Hawkins family claims they heard no such warning.

  After getting no response, deputies broke down the front door and windows of the home and pointed laser sights at the family, forcing them to lie prone and not allowing them to get dressed.

The family alleges excessive force and “ransacking” from the deputies that left their home damaged, as well as actions that exceeded the scope of the warrant, such as bringing a police dog in to sniff for drugs.

At that time, Nathaniel Hawkins was in county jail for an unrelated misdemeanor.

The family will receive $25,000 as a settlement, for a total of $124,225 in costs to the county.

The Claims Board also voted to settle a civil rights claim from a man who said he was subjected to racist remarks at his workplace and retaliated against after he complained. Joe Cheatham, a custody assistant at the Mira Loma Detention Center, alleges that the Sheriff’s Department ignored his complaints of comments stereotyping him as an African American and disparaging his interracial marriage, then retaliated against him by punishing him for common infractions like using profanity in front of detainees. The claims board voted to settle with Cheatham for $99,000; the total cost of this lawsuit to the county will be $177,974.87.

The board also agreed to pay TM Engineering $37,500 to settle a breach of contract suit over a design change in a project to seismically retrofit the Canada Boulevard Bridge over Verdugo Wash in Glendale.

The engineering company contended the county made costly delays in responding to the firm’s requests for information on the project.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company