LymeNet Law Pages
Case History Document

Murray v. Chesapeake Family Practice Group
Entered By: Ira M Maurer/LymeNetDate Created: December 22, 2000
Document Type: Case Summary
Title: Murray v. Chesapeake Family Practice Group, et al
Jury awards $1.7 million to Cecil teen

By Carl Hamilton, Whig Staff Writer December 20, 2000

ELKTON - A civil jury awarded more than $1.7 million Monday to a Port Deposit
teen who suffers long-term health problems because local physicians failed to
diagnose his Lyme disease.

This is believed to be the highest award of damages in Cecil County history,
according to veteran lawyers and court officials.

The six-member jury deliberated nearly eight hours before concluding that
Chesapeake Family Practice Group on High Street in Elkton breached the
standard of medical care when treating Aaron Murray.

That breach, according to the jury, directly resulted in Murray's physical
problems, including his IQ reportedly dropping as much as 29 points.

Murray was 14 when he became a patient at Chesapeake Family Practice Group in
1995. He is now 18.

The jury also decided that Dr. Joseph K. Weidner Jr. breached the standard of
care. However, his breach didn't directly lead to Murray's physical problems.

Weidner still practices medicine at Chesapeake Family Practice Group.

In addition, the jury exonerated the remaining defendant, Dr. Leila A.
Kirdani, concluding that she didn't breach the standard of care. Kirdani now
practices medicine in Buffalo, N.Y.

The jury originally awarded a total of $3.2 million, but Circuit Court Judge
O. Robert Lidums reduced damages on one count because it exceeded a state cap.

Under a count addressing the plaintiffs' pain and suffering, the jury wanted
to award Murray and his mother, Gail Johnson, 41, $2 million. The cap is
$515,000, however.

It awarded more than $1.2 million to cover Murray's loss of future earnings.
And the jury awarded $64,000 to cover past medical expenses.

The defendants' attorney, Robert C. Morgan of Baltimore County, could not be
reached Tuesday for comment.

Ira C. Cooke of Towson, Md., who represented the plaintiffs, believes this
verdict will caution other doctors.

"I think this is an important case because it puts the medical profession on
notice that anything less than top-flight medical care will not be tolerated
in Cecil County,'' Cooke said.

Cooke handled this case with Elkton-based lawyer Douglas R. Cain.

In October, Cain represented a local plaintiff who was awarded more than $1.6
million in damages. Until this verdict, that was the highest amount of
damages awarded in this county.

The jury in this most recent case returned its verdict after a two-week trial.

Chesapeake Family Practice Group failed to offer its physicians training or
directives relating to the prevention and detection of Lyme disease, the
plaintiffs maintained. Cecil County is a high-risk area for the disease.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson and her son sought medical attention at
Chesapeake Family Practice Group on April 1, 1996 because the teen exhibited
numerous symptoms indicative of Lyme disease.

The teen had "every single'' symptom, including fatigue, a rash, swollen
glands, nausea, flu-like symptoms and aches and pains in the joints, Cooke

But Murray's condition went undiagnosed despite several more visits to the
medical practice, Cooke said. The defendants didn't even conduct the simplest
of diagnostic tests - a blood test, he added.

Staff doctors diagnosed Lyme disease after Murray collapsed with seizures in
a hospital emergency room in August 1996. Hospital doctors relied on blood
test results.

The defendants countered, however, that Murray had Lyme disease only a few
weeks before collapsing at the hospital - not several months before the

Approximately six weeks before the episode, the teen discovered a rash that
could have been a telltale of Lyme disease, according to Morgan.

Yet, Murray and his mother didn't seek medical attention at Chesapeake Family
Practice Group between the time of his rash discovery and his collapse,
Morgan maintained.

The plaintiffs contended that there was an unnecessary delay in treatment and
that it caused Murray's IQ to drop significantly. His IQ was measured at 115
in 1995, they reported.

Two recent tests registered Murray's IQ at 86, and a third placed it at 103,
according to testimony. His lawyers claimed Murray was unable to complete the
ninth grade as a result.

Last week, Murray provided emotional testimony about the various abilities he
has lost in the wake of his prolonged bout with Lyme disease.

If detected early enough, according to his attorneys, Lyme disease can be
easily treated without lingering health problems.

The teen broke down on the witness stand, reducing jurors, the judge, his
lawyers and others in the courtroom to tears.

During his closing statement last Friday, Cain reminded jurors that Johnson
made 72 unanswered phone calls to Chesapeake Family Practice Group in several

She was concerned about her son's worsening condition, Cain said.

Weidner called Johnson a "hysterical mom'' while talking with the woman about
her son's case, the mother testified.

Morgan didn't dispute that Murray visited the medical practice numerous times
since January 1995, when his family became clients.

He also didn't deny that numerous phone calls were made on Murray's behalf.

But many of those phone calls and visits related exclusively to the teen's
asthma and other ailments, such as sinus infections and stomach problems,
Morgan said.

Morgan called the plaintiffs' case a "fishing expedition,'' and he accused
their lawyers of preying on the emotions of jurors.

"Clearly, the medical care rendered in this case met the standard of care,''
Morgan said in his opening statement.

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