Pasco jury awards $13 million in pink eye lawsuit

Arcadio Hernandez was wrongly diagnosed with having pink eye.
Arcadio Hernandez was wrongly diagnosed with having pink eye.
Published Dec. 17, 2013

NEW PORT RICHEY — A jury awarded more than $13 million to a Pasco man in a negligence lawsuit over a misdiagnosis of pink eye.

Arcadio Hernandez, 21, went to the emergency room at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital on July 10, 2010, complaining about pain on or around his eye.

He was seen by the nursing staff and a physician's assistant, Bethany Berghoffer, who diagnosed him with a form of conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye. A supervising doctor named Helene Harper never examined Hernandez, but signed off on Berghoffer's diagnosis. They gave him a prescription for antibiotics and sent him on his way.

That November, an aneurysm in his head burst, and Hernandez, who lives in the New Port Richey area, had emergency surgery. Had they properly diagnosed his condition in July, Hernandez's lawyer Steven Deutsch argued during the two-week trial, Hernandez would not be permanently disabled — mentally and physically — as he is today.

"This money is needed by Arcadio to provide the medical services he's going to need for care for the rest of his life," Deutsch said Monday. "It was a clean, exemplary case. The jury did its duty, and justice was done."

Jurors began deliberating Friday afternoon and reached their verdict that evening.

Deutsch originally sought damages between $8.5 million and $9.5 million to cover care for Hernandez and to match his potential lifetime earnings.

Lawyers representing the hospital, Berghoffer and Harper contended Hernandez's diagnosis was correct, given the circumstances and symptoms.

Attorney Andrew Efaw claimed Hernandez's symptoms changed over time to better fit the lawsuit. He grilled Hernandez about inconsistencies in his testimony, including how he described his symptoms as both a headache and eye pain.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said it's deciding what to do next.

"Right now we're in the process of reviewing the verdict and determining if there are any next steps we're going to take," spokeswoman Beth Hardy said.

She also said the hospital no longer uses EmCare — one of the companies named in the suit — to provide staffing for its emergency room. That decision, she said, was not related to the lawsuit.

In court, Hernandez said he had trouble remembering things. He has seizures regularly, he said, that felt like "getting electrocuted and jumping like a fish on the floor."

He walks with a cane and permanently lost the use of one of his hands.

The jury found that Berghoffer, Harper and the hospital were each 30 percent negligent. They also found Hernandez was 10 percent negligent. What that means, Deutsch said, is the award will be reduced by 10 percent, to somewhere around $12 million.