Jury awards $2.5 million to family of overdose victim

Hopkins doctor at fault in 1990 death, panel finds

April 08, 2000|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore jury has awarded $2.5 million to the parents of a 22-year-old college student who died in December 1990 after overdosing on an antidepressant drug prescribed by a Johns Hopkins Hospital doctor.

Christine M. Stewart died of sudden heart failure three days before Christmas after taking a lethal dose of the drug desipramine, according to court papers.

Stewart's parents, who will receive only $350,000 because of Maryland's ceiling on noneconomic damages, sued the hospital and staff physician Francis J. McMahon, arguing that their daughter was given an improper prescription and was not warned about the drug's possible side effects.

Joanne L. Suder, attorney for Carleen and Carl Stewart, said the jury's verdict Tuesday proved the parents' conviction that their daughter did not try to kill herself.

"They basically just feel so relieved that their daughter didn't commit suicide," Suder said. "They knew she didn't."

Richard P. Kidwell, the hospital's managing attorney for claims and litigation, said the hospital never argued that Christine Stewart committed suicide. Kidwell said the hospital argued that Stewart contributed to her death by not following directions for the medication.

"We sympathize with the family's loss, but we believe the standard of care was clearly met in this case," Kidwell said yesterday.

Stewart was a student at the University of Maryland's downtown campus when she died. According to court papers, she had sought treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in September 1990 for mild depression.

In court, Suder and attorney Thomas J. McNicholas argued that McMahon overprescribed desipramine and failed to monitor levels of the drug in Stewart's blood. Suder said the maximum recommended dose of the drug is 300 milligrams. Stewart had been prescribed 400 milligrams.

Kidwell said McMahon no longer works at the hospital and that his departure was unrelated to the Stewart case. Hospital attorneys will decide whether to appeal, Kidwell said.

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