For the second time in a year the county took its chances in a court trial and wound up owing more than if it had settled out of court. Tuesday a Superior Court jury awarded a comatose Richmond woman $1.7 million in: damages, $1.1 million of which the county will have to pay.
The City of Richmond, which settled out of court before the trial began, will be responsible for the $600,000 balance. According to Andrew Gillin, attorney for the 53-year-old woman, Olivia Craven, his client’s family had been willing to settle for $800,000 rather than undergo a costly trial, but the county refused. “We could never understand the cavalier attitude’ of the county,” Gillin said, adding that the county never offered more than $200,000.
Attorney Allan DeFraga, who tried the case for the county, defended the county’s position saying, “We figured we had a 50-50 chance of winning so why pay full value?” “We try to evaluate the liability of each case. There’s no simple policy. This one certainly wasn’t clear-cut,” he said. De Fraga said he did not know whether the county intended to appeal the verdict.
Craven, a diabetic, began behaving strangely and became violent at Richmond City Jail in November 1979 after receiving insulin shots at nearby Brookside Hospital in San Pablo. She was transferred in arm and leg restraints to the psychiatric ward at County Hospital in Martinez where she lapsed into a coma from which she has never regained consciousness.
Last May, the county was ordered to pay $1.2 million out of a total of $2 million in damages awarded to two Pittsburg women severely injured in a 1976 car accident near the Concord Pavilion. One of the victims suffered serious brain damage and was declared incompetent. At that time, court sources said the county Board of Supervisors had rejected a proposed settlement of $500,000 choosing instead to fight the issue in court.
The other two defendants in the case, Concord and the state, settled before the trial began agreeing to pay $565,000 and $250,000 respectively. The May award was the largest jury verdict ever handed down against the county, although last October the county agreed to pay a minimum of $1.5 million in an out-of-court settlement on behalf of another comatose Richmond woman, Gloria Cook. Cook fell into a coma shortly after undergoing a tubal ligation at County Hospital Sept. 15, 1977.
The Craven verdict was handed down by the six-man, six-woman jury after five hours of deliberations. The judgments were against six County Hospital employees, all of whom the jury said had been negligent in their treatment of Craven, although two attendants, Lee Finley and Wally Price, were found not responsible for her current condition. The other four include Dr. George Woods, the attending physician; Carolyn Walman and Sylvia Crout, attend- ing nurses; and Thomas Wright, attendant.
The total judgment breaks down as follows: $1.5 million for Craven’s future medical care, $118,000 for her previous medical costs; and $100,000 in general damages as a result of her “loss of enjoyment of life.” The money will be paid out of the county’s self-insurance medical malpractice fund set up in November 1975 to avoid paying the soaring malpractice premiums charged by insurance companies.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Craven’s daughter and legal guardian, Genia Jackson, against the city and county claiming both agencies were to blame for the events leading to her mother’s condition. Craven’s attorneys said no medical records followed the woman from the jail and the hospital staff made no . serious attempts to obtain her medical history nor conduct medical tests to determine her condition. Instead she was placed in seclusion, shackled and sedated, where she remained without food for 22 hours until she was discovered unconscious, they claimed.
Craven is still a patient at County Hospital where she remains in stable condition. She is not on any life support systems, and could live another 15 years barring complications, physicians say. She had been arrested by Richmond police on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon against her husband, Van Craven.