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Family reaches $2M settlement with Bozeman Health over death of former MSU football player
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Family reaches $2M settlement with Bozeman Health over death of former MSU football player

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BOZEMAN — Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital paid $2 million to the family of a former Montana State University football player who died in the hospital in 2015. The family sued after his death, claiming that negligence on his doctors' part led to his death.

Sunday will mark six years since Eryon Barnett died in the Bozeman hospital.

Barnett was admitted to the hospital roughly two days after arriving to the emergency room. He died on July 4, 2015. He was 24.

The Gallatin County Coroner's office reported Barnett’s death was due to complications from pancreatitis, but his family claimed that an autopsy showed Barnett actually died from an opioid-induced respiratory depression, leading to a fatal heart attack.

The lawsuit — filed in 2018 by Bozeman attorneys Casey Magan and Russ Waddell — claim that Barnett’s physicians, Dr. Sarah Donahue and Dr. Jessica Hoge, left Barnett primarily unmonitored and gave him “exorbitant amounts of Dilaudid,” a narcotic, paired with several doses of valium.

In mid-May, the hospital paid a $2 million offer of judgment to Barnett's mother, Stephanie Mooring, and the mother of Barnett's child, Sarah Woolard. Barnett's son, Beckett, is now 8 years old, Waddell said.

The hospital did not admit liability in Barnett’s death as part of the agreement.

“Bozeman Health continues to extend our deepest sympathies to Eryon Barnett’s family, his young son, and friends …," the hospital said in a statement emailed to the Bozeman Chronicle. "Bozeman Health believes this resolution is in the best interests of all those involved, including providing for Mr. Barnett’s son into the future."

The agreement came a month before the lawsuit was set to go to trial by jury in Gallatin County District Court.

The two doctors named as defendants in the hospital, Hoge and Donahue, still practice with Bozeman Health. 

When asked if the two doctors faced any disciplinary action connected to Barnett's death, the hospital wrote, "Bozeman Health supports the care given by all of our providers."

Barnett had a history of pancreatitis in the last year of his life. Pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas, a small organ behind the stomach.

Barnett told his doctors his pain felt “different” than what he experienced before and pressure “like bricks” on his chest, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stated Barnett’s doctors treated him for recurrent pancreatitis based on an “incorrect assumption.” It also claimed Barnett’s doctors should have done a cardiovascular test to check his heart along with a chest X-ray.

The lawsuit also alleged that, after attorneys indicated the intent to file a suit, the hospital lost or destroyed evidence that recorded the amount of the opiate drugs administered to Barnett.

In a written statement, the hospital said those allegations were unfounded.

Barnett was born in Texas. That's where he started his football career in 2009 before transferring to MSU in 2012. He graduated in 2014 with a degree in sociology.

Before his last MSU football season, Barnett missed part of fall practice because of complications from pancreatitis. He also missed two games that November and was hospitalized the following March due to similar bouts.

He was an NFL hopeful, training to participate in MSU's Pro Day just months before his death, according to a press release from his family's attorney.

In an interview, Waddell said the family is open to pursuing further litigation related to Barnett's case. Barnett's mother said in a press release that she wanted to see criminal liability for his death.

"What constitutes negligent homicide? Eryon was completely under their control. ... The DEA should look into this. The county attorney should look into this," Mooring said in the press release. She resides in Texas.

Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com 

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