A jury has ordered Mercy Hospital to pay $6.5 million in damages after the hospital failed to properly diagnose a 25-year-old man with Lyme disease in 2017, causing his death.

But the damage award is expected to be reduced to $4 million because of a state law that caps loss-of-life damages.

Peter Smith Courtesy of Smith Family

Jurors voted 7-2 Wednesday, agreeing that Dr. John Henson and his employer, Northern Light Mercy Hospital, must pay $1.5 million for Peter Smith’s “conscious pain and suffering” and $2 million for economic damages. They also awarded $3 million for loss of life, but state law at the time of Smith’s death capped that at $500,000.

“We are thankful that the jury held Mercy Hospital and Dr. Henson accountable for the needless and tragic death of young Peter Smith,” the family’s attorneys, Susan Faunce and Jodi Nofsinger, said in a written statement following the verdict. “Peter’s family will be grieving his loss forever. They have some solace in knowing that justice has occurred and hope that this verdict helps to prevent this kind of negligence and wrongful death from happening to anyone else.”

Angela and Richard Smith declined on Thursday through their attorneys an interview request about the ruling.

Hospital spokesperson Ed Gilman said in an email Thursday that “Mercy Hospital extends its heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Smith’s family and regrets the circumstances that occurred leading to his death.” Gilman said that the hospital is in the process of “evaluating next steps” following the verdict.


Gilman confirmed that Henson still works for the hospital, although he no longer is in the emergency department that treated Smith. Gilman refused to answer further questions about the nature of Henson’s current employment.

Henson was still listed as a doctor of emergency medicine on the hospital’s website Thursday afternoon, and his license was listed as active in the database of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine.

Gilman also did not answer a question asking who the hospital’s attorney was in the case. A Cumberland County Court clerk Thursday said the case file was still with the judge and could not be accessed.

The Smiths filed a complaint against Mercy Hospital, Henson and the Portland hospital’s parent company in April 2021, roughly four years after Smith died from a complication of Lyme disease.

Smith’s parents said that Henson failed to accurately diagnose Smith during an initial emergency room visit on June 7, 2017, despite documenting clear symptoms of the disease – fever, chills, headaches and an “initial lesion of the rash (that) started on the left inner thigh” that appeared “slightly target shape” —  a common indicator of the tick-borne illness.

Henson wrote there was “no sign of Lyme disease” and diagnosed Smith with a basic viral illness and erythema multiforme, a skin disorder also characterized by bulls-eye-shaped lesions, according to court documents.


Two weeks later, Smith returned to the ER, still troubled by the rash and worsening aches and chills. Henson added “hives” to his diagnosis.

On June 25, 2017, Smith called an ambulance because he felt like he was going to faint, according to the complaint. He was experiencing heart block and joint pain. Hospital staff diagnosed him with Lyme disease and Lyme carditis, which occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter the heart tissue and interfere with the heartbeat.

Lyme carditis occurs in approximately one out of every 100 Lyme disease cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but only 11 fatal cases had been recorded worldwide between 1985 and 2019.

Smith died a week later.

“Dr. Henson failed to provide reasonably competent medical care to Pete on June 7, 2017, and, as a result of his negligence, Dr. Henson caused Pete to suffer serious injury and death,” the Smith family’s complaint stated.

Cumberland County Superior Justice John O’Neil Jr. denied a motion for summary judgment from the hospital in May, allowing the case to proceed to what was a weeklong trial.

The hospital argued there was no need for a trial because the Smiths were not eligible for the types of economic loss damages they were seeking. O’Neil disagreed, citing amendments to state law in 2009 and recent court decisions in favor of families suffering “the loss of the deceased’s future earnings, regardless of whether the estate’s beneficiaries suffered any actual loss.”

Smith had just moved to Maine for a job with KPMG as an audit associate after graduating from Temple University in Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He was pursuing his CPA licensure at the time of his death, according to court records.

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