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Lawyers for the family of Anne Ryan have dropped punitive damage charges from their malpractice lawsuit against the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Ryan, a College sophomore, died of meningitis last September after being misdiagnosed by Student Health and HUP physicians.

The amended complaint to the lawsuit filed by Ryan's brother, Jed, was in response to preliminary objections filed by HUP in February. The lawsuit alleges that HUP was negligent in its diagnoses and care, leading to Ryan's death.

The lawsuit says that HUP doctors did not appropriately follow up on blood tests, CT scans and other diagnostic tools. The suit also says doctors performed a lumbar puncture that should not have been done given Ryan's condition.

Dropping the punitive damages may indicate that the Ryan family is reevaluating the strength of its case.

"Punitive damages are very difficult to win," said Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney Jack Meyerson, who is not affiliated with the case. Punitive damages mean a doctor intentionally harmed a patient, and "I have never seen a doctor intentionally cause harm," he added.

Under Pennsylvania law, parties in a civil case may file amended complaints in response to preliminary objections raised by the other side.

This allows each side to refine its case to present only its strongest legal arguments before the actual trial begins.

Tom Kline, a lawyer for the Ryan family, declined to comment on the amended complaint. Attorneys for HUP also did not return calls for comment.

Jed Ryan filed the lawsuit in January alleging negligence, wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Jed Ryan also asked for punitive damages and survival benefits to compensate for Anne Ryan's pain and suffering and loss of potential future earnings.

HUP responded in February, motioning to dismiss the Ryan family's claim for punitive damages and to modify negligence claims against HUP physicians, who were all charged with the same negligent actions though they were involved in different aspects of Anne Ryan's care.

The amended complaint does not address this concern.

Meyerson said HUP is likely to file another preliminary objection regarding the negligence charges.

Juries are historically unfriendly to plaintiffs in medical-malpractice lawsuits, especially on less-concrete demands such as punitive damages.

A trial date has tentatively been set for early 2009.

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