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Late artist's family wins $4.5 million malpractice case
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Wednesday, July 25, 2007
By STEPHANIE RICE, Columbian Staff Writer

A Clark County Superior Court jury has ordered Kaiser Permanente to pay $4.5 million to a Vancouver woman whose late husband’s brain tumor went misdiagnosed for several years.

Craig Pozzi, an artist who taught photography at Clark College, died Nov. 12, 2004. He was 61.

Doctors testified during the two-week trial that if Pozzi’s tumor had been diagnosed in 1994, when he first sought treatment, he could have lived 15 to 25 years.

Instead, he was told by doctors he was experiencing panic attacks and given a prescription for Paxil, which is often used to treat anxiety and depression.

The tumor was diagnosed in December 2001, when it was the size of a racquetball.

Pozzi’s wife of 25 years, artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, said Wednesday she was exhausted from the trial.

Having jurors conclude that Kaiser’s negligence led to her husband’s death was a painful reminder he should still be alive.

“I’m in shock,” she said. “It’s not like you can celebrate.”

The verdict was returned late Tuesday evening after the 12 jurors deliberated more than 16 hours over three days.

Mary Sawyers, a spokeswoman for Kaiser, said the company has not decided whether to appeal.

“We extend our condolences to Mr. Pozzi’s family,” she said. “We respectfully disagree with the jury verdict, and we are considering our options.”

Kaiser was represented by attorneys from the Portland firm Hoffman, Hart and Wagner.

Attorneys Paul Henderson of Vancouver and Connie Taylor of Lewiston, Idaho, represented Pozzi’s family, which includes a daughter, Nicola, of Olympia.

Henderson said Wednesday that the “panic attacks” Craig Pozzi was told he was having were really mild seizures. During the seizures he wouldn’t lose consciousness. Instead, he would have a feeling of fear that would last as long as a minute, a feeling that began in his abdomen and rushed to his head.

Two doctors diagnosed the episodes as panic attacks. In 1999, a doctor looked at the 1994 diagnosis and concluded Pozzi needed to increase his dosage of Paxil, Henderson said.

“Of the three physicians who looked at him, not a single one considered seizures,” Henderson said. Henderson told jurors that an $800 brain scan could have caught the tumor in 1994.

Part of the tumor was removed in a January 2002 surgery. Afterward, Pozzi remarked to his neurosurgeon that he was no longer experiencing panic attacks, and the doctor explained that what he had been told were panic attacks had really been seizures.

The tumor grew back. Pozzi, who suffered a stroke during post-surgery radiation treatment, died at the Ray Hickey Hospice House.

Book to be published

Before his death, Craig and Angela were at work publishing “Popular Events.” The book was Craig’s dream, a compilation of whimsical photographs he’d taken over the years at fairs and festivals.

Angela Pozzi said Wednesday she has a publisher and is working on getting the cropping and colors of the photographs just right. Her husband left behind about 4,000 slides, she said, and she knows how he would want them displayed.

“I knew how he thought,” she said. “I know every photograph by heart.” 

She said one of the saddest aspects of her husband’s ordeal was that for years he believed he was having panic attacks. After he was diagnosed, he went straight to the library and read as much as he could about the condition.

Attorney Henderson said Pozzi read about people who suffered severe panic attacks and figured his symptoms were mild.

“He considered himself lucky,” Henderson said.

Stephanie Rice covers the courts.