A federal judge has rejected a $110 million jury award in a Minnesota medical malpractice case, calling it "shockingly excessive" and reducing it to $10 million.
In what was by far the largest award of its kind in Minnesota, a Minneapolis federal jury in May 2022 granted college student Anuj Thapa $111.3 million in damages, including $110 million for pain and suffering.
The jury found that negligent care after a soccer injury had left Thapa with extreme pain and permanent disability. St. Cloud Orthopedic Associates, the defendant, asked for a new trial or a substantial cut in the jury's award, claiming it was "shockingly excessive."
Tony Leung, a magistrate judge for U.S. District Court in Minnesota, ruled Oct. 26 that Thapa must accept a $10 million award for pain and suffering or the case must be retried.
"The evidence introduced at trial does not justify such an astronomical award," Leung wrote.
The judge's ruling does not affect the jury's $1.25 million award to Thapa for economic damages.
Leung set a deadline of Nov. 28 for Thapa to decide whether he will accept a $10 million award.
"We're weighing our options as to how we are going to deal with the order," said Thapa's attorney, Brandon Thompson of the Ciresi Conlin law firm in Minneapolis.
Thapa, then a 19-year-old college student, was injured in January 2017 after a player tackled him during a pickup soccer match at St. Cloud State University. He had arrived in Minnesota only three weeks earlier from his native Nepal.
The night after his injury, Thapa underwent surgery at St. Cloud Hospital for a badly broken leg. He was discharged the next day and told to call a doctor if the severe pain and numbness in his left leg continued, according to the lawsuit.
Thapa returned to the hospital six days later with unbearable pain, his 2019 lawsuit claimed. Another doctor re-opened Thapa's leg and found "acute compartment syndrome," a medical emergency that can cause severe tissue damage. The muscles in Thapa's leg were gray in color.
The suit claimed caregivers affiliated with St. Cloud Orthopedics failed to appropriately discharge Thapa from the hospital by not further investigating the cause of his continuing pain. They failed, too, to appropriately diagnose and treat Thapa's acute compartment syndrome, the suit said.
"To be clear, the court is sympathetic to the pain [Thapa] experiences on a daily basis" as well as the "shame and embarrassment associated with the loss of his academic and vocational dreams — including letting down his whole family and entire village [in Nepal]," Leung wrote. "The testimony and evidence presented at trial, however, does not support an unprecedented award of $110 million in non-economic damages."
The jury's award was the largest for pain and suffering in a Minnesota medical malpractice or personal injury case "by a wide margin," according to Leung's ruling.
The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals — which includes Minnesota — "has never upheld an award even remotely close to the award in this case," the ruling said.
In determining a new award amount for Thapa, the court must remit "the maximum possible amount that the jury could reasonably have awarded," Leung wrote. Leung set that figure at $10 million, noting that it's larger than most non-economic damages in comparable cases.
St. Cloud Orthopedic, in asking for a new trial or jury award reduction, alleged errors and misconduct by Thapa's attorneys and claimed that the jury was tainted by "passion and prejudice" in its decision.
Leung rejected all of those claims, agreeing only that the award was excessive.