Mike Beatty walked out of Oro Valley Hospital alone, on morphine, in the middle of a December night.
As the 43-year-old father of two made his way along a dark road near the hospital, he saw a car go by. Thinking it was his wife, he walked to catch her.
With no idea that he was on a bridge, he fell more than 15 feet into a wash, where he lay injured for hours until a passer-by heard his cries for help.
Beatty, now paralyzed from the fall, hopes the $5 million the hospital is paying him will result in improved patient safety.
The $5 million judgment against the hospital, recorded in Pima County Superior Court last month, followed a 2011 trial in which a jury found the hospital responsible for Beatty's injury.
The case is unusual because most medical lawsuits involving patient safety do not result in a public payout.
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Beatty's Tucson attorney, Dev Sethi, had argued that Oro Valley Hospital officials were negligent for allowing Beatty to leave the emergency room alone when he was under the influence of a narcotic drug. Sethi says it's a hospital's obligation to ensure a patient impaired by medication has someone with them when they leave.
After a jury found the hospital liable last year, a second trial to determine the amount of damages was scheduled to begin this summer. But before the second trial, the hospital waived its right to an appeal and agreed to a $5 million judgment.
Beatty agreed, too, provided the hospital accept responsibility and that the judgment be public.
"We are pleased to have reached a resolution in this case from 2007," Oro Valley Hospital officials said in a written statement Thursday. "We wish Mr. Beatty and his family the very best."
On Dec. 12, 2007, Beatty had just finished a 14-hour day on his job as executive general manager of the Applebee's at Park Place mall. He began having severe nausea and abdominal pain, vomited, and when he didn't improve decided to seek medical attention. Beatty's wife, along with their two young children, drove him to the Oro Valley Hospital emergency room shortly before midnight. His wife, Leslie, told the admitting nurse to call her as needed, court documents say.
An ultrasound revealed a kidney stone. Court records say Beatty's symptoms disappeared after the hospital gave him IV fluid and some medications - Toradol, Reglan and morphine. Beatty called his wife and told her that he was going to walk home and watch for her car along the way. His wife told him to stay put and left the house to pick him up, the records show.
According to the lawsuit, Beatty then signed a discharge form, and left the hospital alone at 2:41 a.m. on Dec. 13. Hospital officials have said they believed Beatty was leaving with his wife.
As he walked along the road about 300 yards from the hospital, Beatty thought he saw his wife and decided to backtrack and meet her in the hospital parking lot, Sethi said.
But in the darkness, he didn't realize that he was on a bridge spanning a wash. In what Sethi describes as a "drug induced stupor," Beatty climbed over a 3-foot wall, thinking it was a shortcut back to the hospital. He fell off the bridge, falling 15 to 20 feet before he landed at the bottom of a wash.
He remained there for several hours until someone heard his screams sometime after dawn and called police.
By that time, Beatty's wife had been driving up and down Tangerine Road for hours, calling the hospital and police.
Beatty broke his spine in the fall and is now a paraplegic.
It is unusual for the outcome of a lawsuit involving patient safety - especially a large payout - to be part of the public record, said Dr. Julia Hallisy, founder of a California-based nonprofit advocacy group called The Empowered Patient.
"Many cases, and especially large awards, include a gag order, which is strictly enforced," she said. "Most cases are dropped or settled privately, so there is no public record."
Beatty's case was also out of the ordinary because a jury found the hospital negligent. When medical malpractice cases go to court, the hospital or physician usually prevails, Hallisy said.
"In this case, Oro Valley Hospital, finally, after losing at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Arizona, accepted the jury's decision that it acted unreasonably in discharging him without an escort and was 100 percent responsible for his injuries," Sethi said.
Beatty and his family have moved to Chandler. His wife is the sole wage earner because Beatty, now 47, is unable to work.
"Mike has struggled with serious bedsores and a bone infection called osteomyelitis. He has not been stable for over a year. Instead, he has been under the constant care of doctors and required 60-plus hyperbaric chamber dives," Sethi said. "He sleeps on an articulating hospital bed in a small room in his house. His wife sleeps in their bedroom, alone."
Sethi said the payout will allow Beatty to get the medical care he needs and also allow his family to close this chapter of their lives.
"The Beattys are still adjusting to their new normal, but they are satisfied that Oro Valley Hospital has been held accountable and has accepted the jury's announcement that patient safety is a priority," Sethi said.
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"The Beattys are still adjusting to their new normal, but they are satisfied that Oro Valley Hospital has been held accountable and has accepted the jury's announcement that patient safety is a priority."
Dev Sethi, Beatty's Tucson attorney
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.