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Jury says family deserves $1.75 million in medical malpractice case

by Mike Cummings
Manchester Journal Inquirer

April 13, 2005

A New Britain Superior Court jury Monday awarded $1.75 million to an Ellington couple in a medical malpractice case involving their daughter who died in 1996 after her doctor failed to diagnose her with pneumonia.

Audrey and Bob Monti, the parents of Lisa Monti, 17, filed the malpractice lawsuit against their daughter’s doctor, Mark Decker of Ellington Family Practice, in 1998.

Decker, who was reprimanded and given one year of probation by the state Department of Public Health in 2003 in an unrelated case, had been treating Monti for an ear infection.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health could not be reached today for comment on the current status of Decker’s medical license.

According to the department’s Web site, Decker is licensed to practice medicine in Connecticut and is on the faculty of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Monti was a vibrant, popular senior and athlete at Ellington High School when she died on Nov. 21, 1996. Her death triggered an outpouring of grief within the community, which later named the softball field at Brookside Park after her.

According to the lawsuit, Monti was admitted to Rockville General Hospital in Vernon under Decker’s supervision on Nov. 16, 1996, apparently suffering an allergic reaction to Bactrim, an antibiotic.

She was released on Nov. 20 and died the following evening of pneumonia.

According to the lawsuit, Decker failed to “exercise the degree of care and skill ordinarily and customarily used under the circumstances then and there present” by not diagnosing and treating the respiratory ailment.

Monti suffered shortness of breath the day she was released from the hospital, the lawsuit said.

Her parents took her to a psychiatrist, believing she was physically fit.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Naomi Wenkert, diagnosed Monti as having a panic attack and prescribed her medication to treat it, the lawsuit said. Monti died that evening.

Audrey Monti, her mother, said today the family believed a lawsuit was its only recourse following the tragedy.

“She was released from the hospital on Wednesday. She died on Thursday. We never knew she had pneumonia,” Monti said.

Of the family’s court victory, she said, “The system has worked. It was a very long re-living of a nightmare. We are glad to get on with our lives.”

Carey Reilly, a lawyer with the Bridgeport-based firm of Koskoff, Koskoff, & Bieder who worked on the case for the Monti family, said today that the trial lasted about five weeks.

During nine days of deliberations, the jury twice announced it was hopelessly deadlocked before reaching a verdict on Friday.

It originally awarded the family $750,000 in economic damages.

Superior Court Judge Susan Peck ordered the jury to reconvene, instructing it to consider non-economic damages as well.

Reilly said it is inconsistent as a matter of law to find a doctor negligent in a malpractice case and award economic damages, but no non-economic damages.

On Monday, the jury awarded the Montis the $1.75 million verdict composed of $750,000 in economic damages and $1 million in non-economic damages.

“I do think it’s a fair amount,” Reilly said. “The jury worked very hard to get to that amount. Lisa was a unique individual and I think the jury took that into account.”

Paul Edwards, Decker’s lawyer, declined to discuss specifics of the case today, but said the legal struggle would continue.

“From our position, there are a number of significant issues involving this case, the trial, and the jury’s verdict that we intend to raise in our post verdict motions,” he said. “Depending on how the trial judge rules on our motions, it’s certain that either one of the parties will take an appeal.”

The Monti family also had sued Wenkert. The jury did not find Wenkert guilty of negligence in her diagnosis and treatment of Monti.

According to an Internet listing of actions taken by the Connecticut Medical Examining Board and the Department of Public Health, Decker received a reprimand and one year of probation in November 2003 for a case not related to the Monti matter.