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Doctor not responsible for death at UW-RF

ELLSWORTH -- A jury heard testimony for five days but deliberated for under 15 minutes before deciding a doctor was not negligent in his treatment of a University of Wisconsin-River Falls student who died of bacterial meningitis.

Erik Spindler, 20, a business administration major from Stillwater, Minn., died Nov. 11, 2002, at River Falls Area Hospital. His family later filed a malpractice suit against Dr. Eric Poulin, the emergency room doctor who treated the young man.

Spindler, who was living in UWRF's Hathorn Hall, had been ill with symptoms that included a severe headache, fever, chills and vomiting. Residence hall staff took him to the emergency room Nov. 10.

According to the suit, Poulin admitted Spindler to the hospital for observation and the young man died at about 1 a.m. Nov. 11.

The lawsuit was filed by his mother, Christine Spindler, as administrator of his estate, and on behalf of his sister, Amy. The Spindlers were seeking compensation for the student's pain and suffering and for his funeral and burial expenses.

The trial began the morning of May 2. Closing statements were given May 8. The predeliberation instructions read to jurors said Spindler was ill when he placed himself under Poulin's care and that his illness wasn't caused or contributed to by any negligence on the part of the doctor. The question before the jury was whether Spindler's health, as it was when he first saw the doctor, was "aggravated or further impaired as a natural result of Dr. Erik Poulin's treatment."

According to court notes, the 12-person jury left at 10:23 a.m. to begin deliberations. Court was called back into session to hear the verdict at 10:45 a.m. The verdict was unanimous.

Judy Wiff handles regional coverage for RiverTown Newspaper Group. She can be reached at or (715) 425-1561.