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$430,000 Verdict Is A County Record

Carroll County Times

By Laura Beck
Times Staff Writer

$430,000 Verdict Is A County Record

Jury awards money to woman whose cancer went undetected

In a county known for frugal juries, the $430,000 awarded by a civil jury this week in a medical malpractice case is the largest amount many in Carroll can remember being awarded here.

The jury awarded former Mt. Airy resident Wendy Jane Shullenbarger, 39, the money to compensate her for future medical expenses, future lost wages and other non-economic damages.

Shullenbarger had breast cancer that was not detected despite several mammograms done by a Carroll company, the suit alleged. The jury found Advanced Radiology LLC, Westminster Imaging and Med-Care Imaging negligent for not correctly reading the mammograms Shullenbarger had in 1992 and 1993.

Cancer that was “probably curable” became “probably incurable” because it was not detected in time, Shullenbarger’s lawyers argued. She has a 75 percent chance of a reoccurrence of breast cancer, the jury was told.

Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Francis M. Arnold, who has been on the bench in Carroll since 1980, and Clerk of the Circuit Court Larry Shipley, who has been in office 20 years, said this was the largest true verdict they can remember.

Arnold said in the 1980s a jury awarded $50 million to a plaintiff in a case where a defendant stormed out of the courtroom and made obscene gestures to the jury. He said in that case, the jury was just sending a message.

Prior to Shullenbarger’s eight -day trial, which ended this week, there has been 11 civil jury trials in Carroll since January. Plaintiffs asked for a total of around $1.8 million in punitive and compensatory damages in those cases, but the juries awarded a total of less than $213,000, court records indicated.

Between January and October of last year, there were 21 civil jury trials. Plaintiffs asked for close to $2 million in damages. Juries awarded less than $180,000.

Steve Heisler, an attorney who has offices in Westminster and throughout the state, said Carroll juries are known among lawyers as being less willing to award high damages. That’s especially so in personal injury cases, he said, in which injuries are often hard to prove.

“It’s not Baltimore city or Prince George’s County,” Heisler said. “The Carroll County juror is more conservative and probably has an image of a personal injury attorney as a carpetbagger, someone trying to raise their insurance premium.”

Even if a Carroll jury acknowledges an injury, it’s not likely to throw money at a plaintiff, he said.

But Arnold said generally in Maryland, he thinks many juries are becoming more like those in Carroll. They usually do the right thing, in his opinion.

“I thought for a long time [Carroll juries] were very conservative.” Arnold said. “But in talking to people in other counties, I think most juries are conservative in the metro areas.

“It used to be out in the country there were conservative juries. It used to be [plaintiffs] getting big awards in Baltimore city, but not anymore.”

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