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Bayfield County jury awards nearly $19M to family in medical malpractice lawsuit

Essentia Health ordered to pay for employees' negligence in treatment

Family awarded damages in medical malpractice suit
Johnny Galligan is pictured with his parents and three sisters. Photo courtesy of Garrett Gondik

An Ashland County family may receive nearly $19 million after a jury ordered a Duluth-based health system to pay for staff’s failure to diagnose a severe infection that left their child with permanent brain damage.

Last week, a Bayfield County jury found Duluth-based Essentia Health was 100 percent responsible for its employees’ negligence in treating Johnny Galligan when he was just eight days old in 2013. Steven and Alina Galligan sued Essentia Health, Memorial Medical Center in Ashland, physician Andrew Snider and others for medical malpractice in 2020.

According to court documents, the family alleged Dr. Snider was negligent in his failure to promptly diagnose and treat the child for bacterial meningitis in February 2013. Court filings state Essentia Health staff initially believed Johnny had digestive issues and a bowel obstruction, transferring him to a hospital in Duluth when he became critically ill. It wasn’t until the child was flown to the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis that staff expressed concern that Johnny had meningitis.

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Even so, the jury didn’t find Snider was negligent in his care and treatment of Johnny. Court filings state the doctor saw Johnny after the infant became “extremely fussy and irritable” the night before, but he sent the child home and arranged for a county nurse to stop by because he suspected the infant was being overfed.

Garrett Gondik, an attorney for the family with Gondik Law, S.C. in Superior, said the county nurse checked on Johnny and attempted to relay information about the infant’s worsening condition to the doctor.

“The facts, unfortunately, were not brought to the doctor’s attention until very late in the day after a child had already suffered major, major issues and the infection had really spread and grown,” Gondik said. “By the time the doctor had it, it was too late to reverse course on the disease. So, that is what we believe the jury concluded was the negligence of the Essentia staff in not relaying those facts.”

The jury awarded Steve and Alina Galligan around $13.4 million for their son’s past and future medical expenses and loss of society and companionship. Johnny Galligan would receive $5.5 million for pain and suffering, loss of future earnings and medical expenses under the jury’s decision.

Gondik said the family is pleased with the jury’s verdict. He said they hope to raise awareness of the issues in their case to ensure other families won’t go through what they’ve experienced.

“The child is actually doing very well under the circumstances, which is a blessing,” Gondik said. “It’s really attributable to the family’s care and attention they give their son.”

Johnny, who is now 10 years old, has irreversible brain damage, can’t walk and uses a wheelchair, Gondik said. The family, who lives on a farm in Ashland, has adapted tractors and other vehicles so that Johnny can ride along with them. Gondik added he loves to swim and enjoys a high quality of life with his mom, dad and sisters.

A spokesperson for Essentia Health said in a statement it’s disappointed with the jury’s decision, indicating future litigation is possible.

“We feel compassion for this family and the care team, as we recognize that cases like this are very difficult for all involved,” Essentia spokesperson Tony Matt said. “We are disappointed with the verdict because we stand behind the care provided in 2013. We are exploring our options regarding next steps and remain committed to delivering high-quality care to the patients and communities we are privileged to serve.”

Gondik said the case is likely far from over. He noted Essentia has the right to appeal the jury’s verdict, saying such decisions are typically challenged. In the meantime, Gondik said the family will continue providing excellent care for their son.

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