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Blind Man Wins $750,000 Over Hospital Care

January 15, 1986|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

A blind man, who said his eyesight could have been saved if emergency room physicians had not delayed treatment, won a $750,000 judgment Tuesday in a lawsuit against a Pomona hospital.

After the jury verdict was announced in Pomona Superior Court, Walter Lee Johnson, 36, said that "I thought my heart was going to jump out." His pupils were burned away in September, 1979, after acid was thrown in his face. "What happens now? Back to school to try to get my Braille together."

Johnson had testified during the trial that he had been left lying on a gurney as long as 20 minutes at Pomona Valley Community Hospital before his eyes were flushed with water, a treatment that his attorney claimed may have spared all or part of his eyesight if it had been given immediately.

'An Orange, Fiery Color'

"As I lay there I saw my eyesight leave my body," Johnson recalled after the trial. "The last color I remember seeing was like an eclipse of the moon--an orange, fiery color."

An attorney for the hospital had argued that Johnson's eyes were irreversibly damaged before he arrived in the emergency room, and that no treatment could have prevented his blindness.

Both sides agreed that a woman threw a heated household cleaner containing acid in Johnson's face during an argument over money, and that a friend drove Johnson to the hospital. But determining what happened after that took up most of the four-week trial.

Members of the hospital staff gave conflicting accounts of when Johnson was treated and how long the procedure took. Medical experts gave widely differing opinions of the length of time the acid could have remained in the Pomona man's eyes without causing permanent damage.

Determination of Truth

The issue, jurors said, became one of determining which side was telling the truth. The only available evidence, they said, was witnesses' testimony and what they called the hospital's sketchy record of Johnson's treatment.

Raymond R. Moore, the hospital's attorney, said he had not decided whether to appeal the verdict.

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