LIHUE — A federal jury on Friday awarded over $700,000 in damages to a Kauai resident who sued Wilcox Memorial Hospital after an incident in which hospital employees injected the man against his will with a high-dose cocktail of strong antipsychotic drugs that left him incapacitated for months after the incident.
The eight-member jury in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court unanimously concluded that the Wilcox Hospital emergency room staff committed assault and battery and intentionally or recklessly inflicted emotional distress on Cameron Raymond while he was a patient at the hospital in June 2013.
Raymond’s lawsuit was filed almost four years ago and originally also named the Kauai Police Department, along with several of its officers, accusing the KPD of a number of due process violations, including the use of excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, negligence and false imprisonment.
Those charges were settled in January, when attorneys for both parties reached an undisclosed agreement a few months before the case against Wilcox Hospital went to trial.
The incident leading to Raymond’s detention at the hospital grew out of a heated custody battle between Raymond and his ex-wife. According to court documents, Raymond’s ex-wife called police to his home on the night of June 5, 2013, saying she became worried about his behavior after receiving strange text messages and phone calls from him while he was taking care of their children, an allegation Raymond adamantly denies.
Interactions between Raymond and the police remain a point of contention, but the undisputed facts are these.
Raymond was involuntarily detained in arm and leg shackles and taken by KPD officers to the Wilcox Hospital emergency room for an involuntary psychological evaluation. Hours later, a doctor drew Raymond’s blood for a drug test. It came back negative for any illegal drugs.
In spite of the fact that the KPD’s police report states he was transported to the hospital without incident, and the emergency room physician at Wilcox testified at trial that he did not witness his patient exhibiting any violent or strange behavior, Raymond remained in ankle restraints and handcuffs.
Still, the Wilcox ER staff decided it was not safe for KPD officers to transport Raymond to Mahelona Medical Center in Kapaa without rendering him incapacitated with injections containing two different powerful antipsychotic medications commonly used to treat schizophrenia. Raymond protested to no avail.
Raymond declined to comment on the case Monday, but transcripts of his testimony during the five-day trial give a glimpse into what was going through his mind as he lay shackled on the hospital bed.
“I was frightened and I — I didn’t understand what was going on,” Raymond told the jury from the witness stand on the first day of trial earlier this month.
”I didn’t understand why they felt the need to give me drugs, ‘cause I was being calm and peaceful,” he said. “I was blown away that they’re insisting on taking my blood and giving me injections.”
The drugs took effect quickly.
“I could immediately feel this rush go through my body,” Raymond said on the witness stand, describing his surprise at how quickly the medication acted on his body. “And I didn’t know what it was. I never heard of the drug, so I was — I was a little frightened. Not a little. Very frightened.”
The drugs left Raymond in an severely altered state of mind. For hours after the injection he struggled to separate reality from hallucinations and slipped in and out of consciousness, as police officers transferred him to the Mahelona Medical Center for continued observation.
“I knew I wasn’t in a nightmare, but it felt fuzzy like it was a nightmare, like it wasn’t real. And I just kept thinking I would wake up,” Raymond said, struggling to relate his experience to jurors. “It felt like I had drank some of the worst poison ever. And all my body ached. All my muscles and everywhere in my body ached.”
Raymond was given two shots containing extremely strong antipsychotic medications.
A Wilcox Hospital nurse, acting on the orders of the emergency room physician at Wilcox Hospital that night, injected Raymond with 100 milligrams of haloperidol decanoate — the maximum daily dose allowed by Food and Drug Administration regulations — and 20 milligrams of ziprasidone.
The effectiveness and safety of both medications have been called into question in recent years. A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine found “no evidence that either haloperidol or ziprasidone led to a shorter duration of delirium.”
The study backed up the findings of previous clinical trials, and other recent studies of the medications have criticized their use in cases such as Raymond’s. A 2016 report published on the website for the National Institutes of Health concluded that “current evidence does not support the use of antipsychotics for prevention or treatment of delirium.”
The side effects of the two drugs can be serious. FDA guidelines for haloperidol decanoate state that a 100 milligram dose — the amount given to Raymond by Wilcox employees — “should be administered cautiously to patients.” It cited a number of severe side effects, including “rapid mood swings to depression,” a list of cardiovascular irregularities and numerous drug-induced movement disorders, generally described as “Parkinson-like symptoms.”
“To me, he looked like somebody who had Parkinson’s,” said Raymond’s mother, a registered nurse who took the stand at trial to testify about her son’s physical and mental health in the weeks and months after the incident. “When he walked, he shuffled like an old, old man.”
Raymond remained so severely incapacitated that he was forced to move back in with his parents. For six months, Raymond lay virtually helpless on the couch in his parents’ home. He could barely move, much less take care of his children. His father, Bruce Raymond, was also called as a witness during the trial.
“He was in pain,” Bruce Raymond said of his son’s condition months after he was discharged. “If it wasn’t for his two boys, I don’t think he wanted to live.”
Jurors decided Wilcox Hospital was liable for $297,600 in compensatory damages and $425,000 in punitive damages.
A spokesperson with Wilcox Hospital responded to a request for comment in the following statement sent via email Monday.
“Wilcox Medical Center has and will continue to provide the Kaua‘i community with accessible, quality health care, as it has for more than 80 years. This is a legal matter that Wilcox is reviewing with its attorneys, and we cannot comment any further.”