Nearly $50 million jury verdict for Kingsburg father injured by American Ambulance

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno County jury awarded a Kingsburg family nearly $50 million in damages for injuries the husband suffered at the hands of American Ambulance.

The $49.8 million verdict is the second highest ever awarded by a Fresno County jury, but the family would give it all up to have things the way they were before March 2018.

Nicholas Merlo was getting his home ready for a new addition when he posed for a picture constructing a crib in early 2018.

"He was 39 years old," said Merlo family attorney Daniel Baradat. "His wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant."

Nick was a mortgage broker; his wife, a middle school administrator.

The first-time father-to-be went to have an endoscopy at Pristine Surgery Center, but his oxygenation levels dropped during the procedure.

A nurse anesthetist gave him a breathing tube before sending him to Clovis Community Hospital via American Ambulance.

The ride ruined his life.

A paramedic removed the breathing tube and couldn't insert a new one.

By the time he reached doctors at Community, Merlo suffered cardiac arrest and a severe lack of oxygen.

"They kept him alive," Baradat said. "However, he's badly badly brain-damaged. He's in a persistent vegetative state. That's been three and a half years and he's going to remain like that for the remainder of his life."

Merlo could still live for decades, but doctors believe he'll never regain consciousness.

His family sued over the medical mistake.

"Six very qualified doctors said if you don't pull that endotracheal tube, he doesn't have this brain injury," Baradat said

After seven weeks in trial, the jury only needed a few hours to agree - American Ambulance was grossly negligent.

They awarded the Merlos a $49.8 million verdict, including $30 million in non-economic damages for pain and suffering.

California's medical malpractice law written in 1975 limits pain and suffering damages to $250,000 per plaintiff, so a judge would reduce the total award to $20.3 million.

The American Ambulance administration sent Action News a statement saying they'll appeal the verdict.

"This is a very sad situation," said American ambulance chief administrative officer and general counsel Erik Peterson. "Our paramedics treated Mr. Merlo like they would any patient, using their training and procedures to do everything they could to improve his declining condition."

"It's kind of offensive to the Merlo family for them to say that," Baradat said, adding that he hopes other patients get more competent treatment.

Since American Ambulance is appealing the verdict, the Merlos won't get any money for now.

But the jury award racks up interest at 10% per year during the appeals process.
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