Spiegler awarded $5M in lawsuit

By Ann McBride
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 16, 1996

PHOENIX - A 10-person jury unanimously agreed yesterday that the UA and its Student Recreation Center employees directly contributed to former student Stacey Spiegler's permanent brain injury six years ago and awarded her $5 million in damages.

The money is intended to cover the cost of Spiegler's rehabilitation, medical care, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Spiegler's mother was also awarded $100,000 for loss of companionship and pain and suffering.

Attorney David Wenner, whose Phoenix firm Snyder & Wenner represented Spiegler, said during closing arguments Spiegler has an IQ of 86 and suffers from severe memory lapses. He said she had been on the dean's list at the University of Arizona and dreamed of being a psychologist, but now she plays with dolls and reads children's books.

Co-counsel Howard Snyder said he thought the jury returned a fair verdict in light of Spiegler's medical bills. He said he spoke with jury members after the decision and they were quite upset with how the Rec Center handled the situation. He said jurors did not think the staff was properly trained and they were negligent in not performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Spiegler.

The civil case, which was held in Maricopa County Superior Court, stems from a Sept. 15, 1990 incident in which Spiegler, a senior psychology major, suffered a heart attack while riding a stationary bicycle. Rec Center employees cared for Spiegler until the paramedics arrived, but did not perform CPR because, they contend, she was breathing and had a pulse until the paramedics arrived. Paramedics performed CPR and then used defibrillation to revive her.

Spiegler's attorneys said she went four minutes without oxygen while under the center's care, and the employees were not properly supervised or trained in emergency procedures. Plus, the Rec Center could not verify the employees were certified in CPR.

Defense attorney Jack Redhair told the jury during the trial that eight employees testified Spiegler was breathing and had a pulse until the paramedics arrived. It was the UA's contention that Spiegler sustained her brain injuries while under the paramedics' care and that her pre-existing heart condition exacerbated the attack. Spiegler was diagnosed in 1989 with a congenital condition, marked by a thickening of the heart muscle, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Snyder said he could not believe attorneys did not try to settle the case out of court. He said one offer was made, but it was so low that it would not even cover the cost of attorneys' fees.

A court will decide how much money Spiegler's attorneys will receive, since she is not legally competent to represent herself.

Mike Proctor of the University Attorneys Office said personal injury cases are handled directly by the State Department of Risk Management, which handles costs associated with the trial. Risk Management pays all fees associated with personal injury cases, including any settlements, he said.

The Wildcat was unable to reach Redhair or Grant Smith, director of Campus Recreation, for comment.