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Jury Returns Verdict in Libby Zion Wrongful Death Case

February 6, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ The jury in a wrongful death case that changed the way young doctors are trained in New York’s teaching hospitals delivered a mixed verdict Monday: It placed blame on both the hospital and the 18-year-old girl who didn’t tell emergency room personnel about her cocaine use.

The jury awarded Libby Zion’s parents, Sidney and Elsa, $750,000 for their daughter’s pain and suffering and $1 in damages for her wrongful death. They assessed no punitive damages against New York Hospital and the four doctors the Zions sued.

The jury placed 50 percent of the blame on the defendants and 50 percent on Zion herself. They said that she had been negligent in giving hospital physicians her medical history when she arrived at the emergency room the night of March 4, 1984 with a very high fever and earache.

The Zions’ lawyer, Thomas Moore, had said that hospital doctors erred when they gave Zion the painkiller Demerol to relieve her chills and fever while she was on the antidepressant Nardil. The two drugs react lethally together, and the jury found that the interaction may have contributed to the 18-year-old college freshman’s death.

Libby Zion’s death became a case study in how big city teaching hospitals treat their patients. Her father charged that New York hospital systematically overworked and undersupervised its young doctors in training, and pressed for changes in their working hours and conditions.

In 1987 a Manhattan grand jury failed to bring criminal charges in the case, but concluded that Libby ``might have survived if she had received the experienced and professional medical care that should be routinely experienced.″ It also suggested limiting the number of hours interns and residents could work.

Two years later New York became the first state to regulate intern and resident hours, limiting them to 24-hour shifts (36-hour ones were common) and an average work week of 80 hours (instead of the usual 100). It also required more supervision by senior physicians.

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