Two Thousand Oaks doctors have settled a $1.85-million lawsuit by the family of a 24-year-old man who died after allegedly being treated improperly for chickenpox.
The malpractice suit, which was tried in Ventura County Superior Court in February, contended that Drs. W. Duane Dodd and Richard Small failed to detect when Alex Roe's chickenpox evolved into a life-threatening case of pneumonia. Roe, a Thousand Oaks resident, saw the two physicians when he went for treatment at the Thousand Oaks Urgent Care Center.
A jury ruled against the doctors, finding Dodd 10% liable and Small 90%. It awarded Roe's family $2.3 million, an amount reduced after months of settlement negotiations.
Roe was survived by his wife, a stepdaughter, now 8, and a very angry mother, Jackie Pepper of Pell City, Ala.
Pepper said she recently sent complaints against Dodd and Small to the Medical Board of California. She vows that her only child's death will not go unnoticed.
"The people of California are still seeing these doctors," she said.
Dodd first treated Roe on July 16, 1992, and told him that his low-grade fever and the red bumps covering his body were symptoms of chickenpox, the lawsuit alleges.
Roe returned to the clinic a day later, coughing up blood and having trouble breathing. Small examined Roe with a stethoscope and said his lungs sounded clear, according to court records.
Small did not refer Roe to a specialist or emergency room, X-ray his chest, or perform other tests that might have shown that Roe suffered from viral pneumonia, doctors who testified in the case said in court documents and interviews.
Although benign in children, chickenpox can be dangerous for adults, and it is not unusual that an adult case of the disease would lead to pneumonia, doctors testifying for the Roes said.
But Small did not tell this to the Roes, the family maintains. Instead, Small, a neurosurgeon who owns a share in the family practice clinic, sent Roe home with some prescription-strength cough medicine and advice to call the clinic if he got any worse, according to the lawsuit.
Roe, the otherwise-healthy manager of a Malibu Crown Books store, went into cardiac arrest the next day and died at Los Robles Regional Medical Center four days after he was first treated from complications of pneumonia brought on by a case of chickenpox.
"It was definitely a death that should not have happened," Pepper said. "That's what's hard to deal with. My son should be alive, and he's not. . . ."
Neither Dodd nor Small returned phone calls this week. Their lawyer, B. Elliott Johnson, refused to comment on the suit.
The Thousand Oaks Urgent Care Center, where Roe first went for treatment, operates on Janss Road.
Dodd continues to see patients at the clinic. Small has been on leave from the center since early this summer, but still runs a neurosurgery consultation practice in Camarillo. Both Dodd and Small retain partial ownership of the five-partner care center, workers at the clinic and Small's office said.
Roe's stepdaughter, Savannah Russell, and her mother have both relocated to their native Alabama.
"If (Small or Dodd) had ever told us to go to an emergency room or specialist, we would have," Roe's widow, Kay Roe, said in a telephone interview. "We didn't have insurance, but we would have paid for it."
The Roes came to Southern California from Alabama in 1991 because Alex, a guitarist, wanted to see if he could make it in the music business. He found a job at Crown Books in Thousand Oaks.
Kay Roe worked in medical insurance collections for a Thousand Oaks orthopedics group.
Then Alex Roe got sick.
Kay Roe said she first suggested taking him to a hospital emergency room, but he insisted on finding somewhere without the long waits common to many emergency rooms.
"I saw an ad for the Urgent Care Center, saying you would not have to wait as long as for an emergency room (and would receive) the same type of care," she said.