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Two California families awarded $253 million in lawsuit against dialysis corporation

In a wrongful death lawsuit against DaVita Inc., a federal jury awarded $127 million in damages to the the family of Gary Gene Saldana, 60, of Chowchilla. Saldana is pictured with an unidentified infant.
In a wrongful death lawsuit against DaVita Inc., a federal jury awarded $127 million in damages to the the family of Gary Gene Saldana, 60, of Chowchilla. Saldana is pictured with an unidentified infant. Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro

The family of a Chowchilla man who said he died of a cardiac arrest after treatment at a DaVita Inc. dialysis clinic has been awarded $127 million in damages by a federal jury.

The family is one of two from California awarded a total of $253 million in damages. The jury awarded a third family from Chicago $130 million for a total of $383.5 million in damages.

The jury in Denver found DaVita negligent and of concealing information from the patients about GranuFlo, a product it used in dialysis treatment that the families' lawyers said had known dangers.

The family of Gary Gene Saldana, 60, of Chowchilla was awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. He had received treatment at DaVita Almond Wood Dialysis in Madera on Oct. 2, 2010. He died at home a day later.

In addition to Saldana's family, the jury on June 27 awarded the family of Irma Menchaca $2 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. She received treatment at DaVita University Dialysis Center in Sacramento and died June 6, 2008.

Deborah Hardin had treatment at a DaVita clinic in Chicago and died in 2014. Her family was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages.

According to the families' lawyers, GranuFlo can result in dangerously high bicarbonate levels that can cause metabolic alkalosis, a risk associated with low blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias, among other conditions.

Saldana had underlying medical conditions that made him particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of Granuflo, they alleged.

DaVita said in a written statement it plans to appeal the verdict. "There was substantial evidence that the GranuFlo product is safe and effective, and no evidence that we or the manufacturer of GranuFlo hid any data contradicting its safety or effectiveness," the company said.

"Our first priority is the safety of our patients. Our clinical outcomes — among the best in the industry — demonstrate our commitment to providing the highest level of care," DaVita said.

Labor unions in California applauded the verdict against DaVita, which is one of the largest dialysis corporations with clinics in California. Unions have been embroiled in a debate with dialysis corporations about patient safety and the need for reforms.

Voters will decide Nov. 6 on a ballot measure that would limit dialysis companies' revenues to 15 percent above the amount they spend on patient care. Those in support say the measure, if approved, would result in the hiring of more staff and new medical equipment to improve the clinics. Those opposed say it would cause clinics to close or reduce hours of service.

Saldana's family did not want to be interviewed, but a lawyer said Saldanahad been on dialysis for several years because of end-stage renal disease.

He was married to his high school sweetheart, Sherri Saldana, for more than 40 years. Saldana had two adult sons and grandchildren, said Molly Booker of the Phoenix law firm of Hagen Berman Sobol Shapiro.

He spent a career working in maintenance before retiring, Booker said. He had handled all the maintenance for Embassy Suites, she said. "He was just a very honest, hardworking man."

"He was a beloved guy within his company," she said. "He had a white beard, and he would play Santa Claus at their holiday parties."

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter
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