HULL—Had she received proper medical treatment, Nicholas Rowley thinks Carrie DeJongh of Hull would still be alive today.
“Nobody should die as a result of a CT scan,” he said.
Rowley is an attorney for Trial Lawyers for Justice, a law firm out of Decorah that represented the late Carrie DeJongh’s family in court against Sioux Center Health and Dr. Roy T. Slice, a former physician at the hospital.
A jury awarded the DeJonghs a $29.5 million verdict June 13 against Sioux Center Health and Slice in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Sioux County District Court in Orange City.
Rowley thinks this is the first medical malpractice verdict awarded in Sioux County history.
He called the experience humbling and said hearing the verdict was incredibly emotional for the legal team and DeJongh’s family. She left behind a husband and four children after her unexpected death.
“There was a lot of crying, a lot of tears but really thankful that the jury discovered the truth and spoke the truth with their verdict,” Rowley said.
DeJongh, who was 40 at the time of her death, was survived by her husband, Jeff, and four children, Adrianna, Beau, Mandi, and Jaelyn, all at home at the time, as well as her parents, Gary and Sue Roetman of Hull.
Rowley’s team got involved in the case about eight months ago; however, it all began on June 9, 2015, when DeJongh checked herself into Sioux Center Health for a standard computerized tomography scan, or CT scan.
During the procedure, she had an anaphylactic reaction to the contrast dye administered for her CT scan and lost consciousness and went into shock minutes after the material was put into her body.
The only immediate treatment given to her by Slice and the hospital was a dosage of Benadryl, an over-the-counter treatment for itchiness, hives and minor allergic reactions.
The last few hours of DeJongh’s life were agonizing, according to Rowley. While she still was in anaphylactic shock, DeJongh slightly regained consciousness and spoke her last words.
“She was screaming, ‘Help me! Help me!,’ and she was combative so all they did was hold her down for the next 26 minutes,” Rowley said. “They held her down until her heart finally stopped.”
Slice administered an epinephrine dosage — the same medicine used in an EpiPen — 45 minutes after her adverse reaction, but it was after DeJongh’s heart stopped beating. DeJongh suffered severe brain damage as a result and died later that evening.
“Kids carry EpiPens around in their backpacks,” Rowley said. “All they had to do was give her that medicine.”
Prior to the trial, Rowley and his team tried to work out a settlement with lawyers from MMIC Insurance Inc., Sioux Center Health and Slice’s insurer, but could not agree on an amount both sides felt comfortable with.
In a letter dated from May 12 that Rowley exclusively shared with The REVIEW, MMIC offered to settle the case with the DeJonghs for $1.35 million. That offer expired at 5 p.m. May 21 and would have required everyone involved to sign confidentiality agreements.
Rowley has an opinion as to why both sides were unable to reach a compromise.
“Insurance companies in Iowa treat people cheaply and believe that Iowa juries will do the same,” he said. “We are proving again and again that they are wrong. Iowa juries value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which are fundamental inalienable rights, greatly.”
Since its inception and over the course of more than 300 trials across the country, Trial Lawyers for Justice has had more than $1 billion worth of wins for its clients, according to the firm’s website.
Attorneys from MMIC seemed to directly challenge that notion in the May 12 letter.
“You have cited your track record of several large verdicts across the country,” the letter said. “Please know that MMIC Insurance Inc. also enjoys a strong track record in successfully defending our insureds with a trial success rate of 90 plus percent.”
While the eight-digit verdict is sure to raise eyebrows, Rowley does not think the legal fight is over with MMIC and senses that an appeal will be filed.
“An insurance company earns more money by delaying in paying by filing frivolous appeals on that money and most people give up and cave in and settle for less,” he said.
Monica Sedelmeier, interim-CEO of Sioux Center Health, did not return a call for comment, however; she issued a statement on the situation.
“We appreciate the jury’s time and deliberation on this case and have great sympathy for the DeJongh family,” she said. “We do, however, have a differing opinion and believe the standard of care was met in this case.”
Although he is not entirely confident this will shake up the insurance industry, Rowley hopes the settlement will help reform insurance and medical practices nationwide.
“We hope this case changes the way insurance companies value human life when somebody is negligently killed,” he said. “This verdict is an eye-opener and will change the practice of medicine and save lives not only in the Midwest but throughout the United States.”