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Asan francisco jury awarded $1.5 million to a family of a deceased cancer patient who died while experiencing severe pain. The jurors agree that Wing Chin, MD, failed to adequately address the patient’s pain, but it did not rule that he acted with malice or had intentionally caused emotional distress, so there was no award of punitive damages.
In a trial that became a forum for the debate over how pain is treated in American medicine, an Alameda County jury on June 14 found that the internist committed elder abuse and reckless negligence by not giving enough pain medication to William Bergman, who died in 1998.
The case is a major victory for patients’ rights advocates who argue that many doctors don’t treat pain adequately, said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion in Dying, a Portland, OR, advocacy group that provided legal assistance for the lawsuit.
"It’s a good day for us," she said. "This case was against all odds. . . . This is a precedent-setting case because, to our knowledge, never before has under-treating pain been defined as elder abuse."
The suit was brought by Beverly Bergman, 45, the daughter of the retired railroad detective.