FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — May 19 is the final date Indiana senator and medical doctor Tyler Johnson along with Parkview Hospital have to get their ducks in a row for a wrongful death suit filed a year ago by a local grandmother.
Jennifer Becerra’s 20-year-old daughter, Esperanza Umana, visited the Parkview ER on Jan. 22, 2018, presenting serious symptoms for pneumonia, asthma and the flu. She was possibly septic, a condition that kills 60% of patients, the court heard Tuesday. Her attending physician was Johnson, who won election last November as a Republican to the state legislature, representing parts of Allen and DeKalb counties.
Waiting to fill a prescription at Walgreen’s with her mother, Umana died less than an hour after leaving Parkview.
Two months after Becerra filed a lawsuit in January 2022, a medical review board made up of three medical doctors sided with Becerra, something that Becerra’s attorney, Terri Kaiser Park, said would normally trigger a settlement.
But this time it hasn’t, and through a string of misfortune that includes a deposition cut short with a pregnant nurse and an expert on tap who died in January, Johnson’s attorney, Ben Ice, and Rachel Guin, attorney for the nurse and a respiratory therapist, came to the courtroom of Allen Superior Court Judge Andrew Williams asking for another delay.
Williams agreed, setting the final date for a court hearing on May 19 at 10 a.m., but not after Guin made a couple of phone calls in court to the respiratory therapist to set a date for that deposition hanging out there.
There’s a chance that the case would be put to rest at mediation set for April 28, just after the last deposition is scheduled with the therapist for April 7.
Park, who practices in Indianapolis and has 41 years in the medical malpractice field, argued the depositions weren’t really necessary. Depositions were concluded on Feb. 10 with Johnson and the nurse, at least for the defense side. The nurse, about to give birth, found it difficult after a while to finish the deposition with Park.
Why not have Johnson and the nurse and therapist sign affidavits swearing that the appropriate care was given? Park asked.
“There was little in the medical records (about the visit) to explain the events that followed,” Ice told the judge. A lot of open questions, he added.
“They weren’t my depositions,” Park countered. “None were necessary and we didn’t get anything out of them.”
Then there was that one expert, Ice said, who had agreed to look over the case. When Ice didn’t hear from him, he learned that the expert had died in January.
Park said the defense team has had months to locate an expert, an expert who’d have to go against the findings of three medical doctors.
“They’re always scrambling but they can’t find an expert in the whole universe,” Park said. With a cap on settlements at $1.6 million in Indiana, it’s a mystery why Parkview and the Professional Emergency Physicians, Inc., a separate entity from Parkview, haven’t settled the case, she said.
Becerra is now raising Umana’s son, who was five months old when his mother died. He accompanied Becerra to court where she held him before he fell asleep on the wood bench.
“We know why she died,” Park said. The fatal mistake allegedly appears to be the four liters of fluid pumped in Umana’s lungs. “She had too much fluid in her lungs.” Emergency first responders reported that Umana was wheezing in both lungs, Park added.
The attorneys have been “shopping experts for the last seven months,” Park said. With Parkview’s unlimited resources, “it shows the weakness of the case.”
Even if Park had little patience with the delay, she expressed sympathy for her adversaries.
She suggested putting the defense attorneys “out of their misery,” because they were trying so hard to find that expert witness.
“How would you like to be an attorney and have a doctor trying to call the shots?” Park asked. “Enter a summary judgement and let justice be served.”