CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The families of six military veterans who died under suspicious circumstances at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, have reached tentative settlements with the government, according to their attorneys.
Settlement of clients of attorney Tony O’Dell of Tiano O’Dell PLLC include:
- The family of George Nelson Shaw Jr. ($975,000)
- The family of John W. Hallman ($950,000)
- The family of Felix McDermott ($775,000)
- The family of Robert Kozul ($775,000)
- The family of Russell Ross Posey Sr. ($700,000)
The family of Archie Edgell has also reached a tentative settlement for $700,000, according to attorney Dino Colombo of Colombo Law.
West Virginia’s medical malpractice act caps the non-economic damages in cases like this. The $700,000 settlement is the maximum the Edgell’s can receive, Colombo said. Several of the other settlements were for higher amounts based on the economic damages those families were able to show through life expectancy estimates, coupled with pensions and retirement benefits they had, O’Dell explained.
“It’s unfortunate that there is a cap on what a family can recover. It’s just not fair. (With the medical malpractice act), Lobbyists and legislators have decided, without ever hearing the merits of a case, that no matter how egregious the malpractice was, that the damages be capped. It’s completely unfair. It’s all about giving the insurance company more money,” Colombo said.
“If these veterans had been killed in another state, like Kentucky, that doesn’t have arbitrary caps, their lives would’ve been worth more. It’s a violation of the 14th amendment that by simply living in West Virginia, someone’s life is worth less. It’s time people started holding West Virginia’s legislators accountable for these infringements on our constitutional rights,” O’Dell said.
The families are glad the government came to them and paid what was available under West Virginia law and are happy to not have to relive this facts of the cases over and over again, O’Dell said.
However, there hasn’t been any accountability at hospital, the report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General hasn’t been released yet, no changes have been made made in the hospital’s leadership, and no changes have been made in the procedures or oversights that led to the veterans’ deaths, O’Dell said.
Concluding the civil portion of the case, with the proposed settlement, along with the upcoming sentencing of Reta Mays, who pleaded guilty in July to charges related to eight deaths, is a good thing for the Edgell family, allowing for closure, Colombo said.
“No amount of money of money can give back the Edgell family what they lost. It wasn’t about money for the family, they just wanted justice to be done,” Colombo said.
The Edgell family is very pleased by how the criminal portion of the case, against Mays, has been handled by U.S. Attorney William Powell’s office, according to Colombo.
While all of the families are happy that Mays will likely spend the rest of her life is jail, some families, like the Hallmans’, whose family member’s death was not part of the criminal proceedings against Mays, still feel somewhat left out, according to O’Dell.
Mays is scheduled to be back in court later in October.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh will have to approve the settlements during hearings scheduled for November 20.
O’Dell says his office is still investigating 12 additional cases, having already filed a notice of claim against the government in one of the 12 cases, related to a 2017 death. “A lot of families still don’t have answers,” O’Dell said. As part of the settlements, the government has agreed to turn over Mays work schedule to O’Dell, which could help offer more clarity on those 12 cases, O’Dell said. “It’s not over,” he said.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV issued a statement on the proposed settlements:
“Today’s tentative settlement is further evidence that the VA and the Clarksburg VAMC were negligent in the murders that happened under their watch. I hope Reta May’s recent guilty plea and the settlements announced today bring peace of mind to the victim’s families, but money and an admission of guilt can’t bring back their innocent loved ones. It has been over two years since we learned about these murders, and no one at the VA or in the Clarksburg VAMC leadership have been held accountable for these terrible actions. The West Virginia Veteran community need answers. I strongly urge VA Inspector General Missal to quickly conclude and publish the Office of Inspector General’s report. West Virginians deserve to know what happened, and a detailed report on the VA decisions, policies, and procedures that allowed these murders to happen is the first step. I will continue working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass my bipartisan legislation, the Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act, to ensure this never happens to another Veteran or their family.”U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin