Articles Posted in Surgery Malpractice

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After a five-day trial last week, a jury in Montgomery County, Maryland awarded $1 million a man who permanently lost vision in one eye following surgery.  The man went to a local eye clinic in December of 2014 with pre-existing conditions that left him at a higher risk of developing increased ocular pressure.  However, he was not prescribed any eye pressure medication.  The clinic physician diagnosed him with a detached retina and scheduled him for surgery to repair it.

The man’s medical malpractice lawyers contended that the surgery caused the pressure in the left eye to increase over the next day, leading to permanent vision loss.  He contended that he is not able to do all of the activities that he was accustomed to doing and that his enjoyment of life’s daily pursuits has been diminished.  The award included $500,000 for pain, suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress.  After the Maryland economic damages cap in medical malpractice cases is applied, the award will be reduced to $740,000.

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A Connecticut jury has awarded $1.8 million to a 28 year-old woman whose surgeon inadvertently cut one of her fallopian tubes, rendering her sterile. The woman presented to the hospital in May of 2011 complaining of pelvic pain on her right side. At that time, the emergency department’s differential diagnosis included appendicitis and infection.

One week later, the woman underwent an appendectomy performed by one surgeon. During that surgery, a second surgeon – the defendant in this case – came into the operating room to operate on an abscess of the right fallopian tube. The second surgeon, who had never performed this type of surgery before, cut the wrong fallopian tube, rendering the woman infertile. As a result, the woman required another surgical procedure. Additionally, the only option for reproduction for this woman now is in-vitro fertilization which is expense and has unnecessary risks and side effects.

The defense’s position at trial was that the woman more likely than not would not have been able to conceive even absent this surgeon’s mistake because of the infection that she had when she came in. The jury rejected this argument after the patient’s attorneys showed that women with this type of infection are able to get pregnant between 85 and 90 percent of the time. The jury’s award included $190,000 for medical expenses, $1.3 million for emotional pain and suffering and mental anguish, and $310,000 to the woman and her husband for loss of consortium.

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A Baltimore City, Maryland jury has awarded $2.3 million to a woman who suffered a debilitating leg injury during what should have been a routine surgery. The now-59-year-old was a registered nurse working in the position of case manager for a private nursing home when she presented for a total right knee replacement.

During the procedure – and as is customary – the surgeon placed a tourniquet on her thigh. A tourniquet is a compression device (usually a bandage) used to control blood circulation to an extremity for a limited period of time. Unfortunately in this case, the tourniquet damaged the peroneal, femoral and posterior tibial nerves. The peroneal nerve did not heal and as a result, the woman experiences “foot drop,” a condition which prevents her from lifting and flexing her foot. As a further consequence of this complication, her knee rehabilitation efforts after the surgery were compromised. Because of the medical mistake, the patient has been unable to return to work and requires the use of a cane in order to walk.

The jury’s award was comprised of $1.3 million in economic damages (medical bills and lost wages) and $1 million in noneconomic damages (pain, suffering, mental anguish, etc.). The noneconomic damages award will be reduced to $785,000 under the State’s cap on such damages.

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Last week, a Minnesota jury awarded $9.1 to a then-51 year old man who suffered paralysis during surgery to repair a perforated bowel. The verdict is believed to be the third-largest verdict or settlement in the state’s history. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here. The gentleman presented to an area hospital with flu-like symptoms and was given fluids for dehydration until his doctors determined that he was suffering from a perforated bowel. In preparing him for surgery, his doctors stopped the administration of fluids for his dehydration. As a result, his blood pressure dropped dramatically which prevented his spinal cord from receiving adequate blood flow, resulting in permanent spinal cord damage.

His lawyers argued to the jury that the standards of acceptable medical care require that a patient who is severely dehydrated be rehydrated prior to surgery. As is evident from this case, the failure to rehydrate the patient and get his blood flowing properly again had catastrophic consequences. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, the central argument of the defense was “we don’t know how this happened but it couldn’t have happened during surgery.”

Due to his traumatic spinal cord injury, the patient lost all use of his and had to give up his business as a mechanic. The jury’s award included $5 million for future pain and suffering, $2.1 million to cover the costs of his significant future medical care needs and $1.175 million for past and future lost wages.

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This week, a North Carolina jury awarded $7.5 million to a gentleman whose botched colon surgery left him with severe and debilitating complications. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here. In June of 2010, the patient underwent surgery to remove a portion of his colon due to a potentially cancerous mass that had been found. It was alleged that when the surgeon connected the new ends of the colon together, there was a leak. The patient in this case became extremely ill following the surgery. He suffered from a prolonged period of low blood pressure as well as kidney failure, infection and internal bleeding. He also underwent two additional surgeries during which his physicians were unable to locate the source of the infection. A colonoscopy later that same year revealed a leak in the area where a portion of the colon had been resected. A fourth surgery was then performed to repair the leak and mitigate the resulting internal damage.

When a perforation occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, substances such as fecal matter, food and bacteria can leak in to the abdominal cavity which can cause infection, organ damage and even death. Perforations of the colon can happen on their own but, more commonly, occur during surgeries in the abdomen. Symptoms of a colon injury include fever, pain, increased heartbeat, increased respiratory rate and distension of the abdomen. Generally speaking, a perforated colon can be diagnosed using the CT Scan technology that is available today.

Often times, the defense in these types of cases is that the perforation – and the resultant leak – in and of itself is not a breach of the standard of acceptable medical care. While the truth of this defense depends on the circumstances, a good medical malpractice attorney can get around this argument by showing that a delay in diagnosing the perforation and leak resulted in unnecessary harm and damages.

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One of the most shockingly common types of medical malpractice occurs when a surgeon and his or her surgical team concludes a procedure without removing all of the foreign objects used on the patient during the surgery. Such objects may include sponges, clamps, gauze, surgical instruments and even needles. If a foreign object is left in the body after the surgery is completed, life-threatening conditions can – and often do – ensue. These objects can cause severe pain and often result in, among other things, significant infections and organ damage which can lead to death if not timely and appropriately recognized and removed. Of course, at a minimum, the negligent failure to remove all foreign objects from the body before closing the incision necessitates an additional painful surgery to remove the object which means additional hospitalization, increased medical bills and, sometimes, unnecessary lost wages.

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys understand that often the best way to pursue these types of cases is to show that the surgeon violated his or her own hospital’s policies, guidelines and procedures. Most hospitals and surgery centers have written policies that govern how to avoid leaving a foreign object inside the body, such as tracking the objects that go in and counting the objects as they are removed to ensure that none are left before the incision is closed. The pre and post-surgery count also should be documented in the patient’s medical records.

If you or a loved one were injured by a doctor’s negligent failure to remove all foreign objects prior to completing a surgery, call one of our seasoned medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation at (410) 385-2225.

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At the conclusion of a three-week trial, a Baltimore City jury last week awarded $28 million to a 47 year-old man whose perforated ulcer went undiagnosed, resulting in significant complications and life-altering deteriorations in his health. The man had a history of Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. However, his Chron’s had not caused him any significant trouble since a surgical procedure in 2000.

In May of 2011, the patient presented to an area hospital with severe, burning left-sided pain radiating to his chest. Rather than rule out an upper gastrointestinal illness, the treating physician treated him for a flare-up of his Chron’s and discharged the patient thereafter. Some eight days later, the patient returned to the hospital with nearly identical symptoms and, again, the treating physicians failed to consider an upper gastrointestinal illness. As the result of the misdiagnosis, a duodenal ulcer was perforated. An ulcer is an open sore or lesion, usually found on the skin or mucous membrane areas of the body. A duodenal ulcer is a sore or lesion that occurs in the upper area of the small intestine.

The physicians decided to perform surgery on this patient’s abdomen to determine what was happening. During the surgery, the surgeon missed the perforated ulcer and, instead, removed a portion of the patient’s bowel. At the end of that procedure, the surgeon performed intestinal anastomosis, a surgical procedure to establish communication between two formerly distant portions of the intestine. However, the failure to address the perforated ulcer caused the intestinal anastomosis to break down, resulting in the need for dozens of future surgeries and further resection of the patient’s bowel. As the result of these physicians’ negligence, the patient suffers from significant health problems and can only take in nutrition through a feeding tube.

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Not all medical malpractice lawsuits are decided by a jury. In some circumstances – such as those in which the Defendant doctor is an employee of the federal government – a judge decides whether the physician breached the standard of care and, if so, how much money to award. This is called a “bench trial.” In a recent bench trial in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, a Federal Judge awarded the victim of a medical mistake $3.2 million. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

In the Arizona case it was alleged that the Plaintiff – a board certified orthopedic surgeon with subspecialty training in spine surgery – consulted his primary care physician for a shoulder injury he sustained while lifting weights. That physician referred him for an MRI of the shoulder. It was determined that the Plaintiff would require rotator cuff surgery and so he was referred to the Defendant-doctor, an employee of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, for the procedure. The MRI also revealed what was interpreted by the Radiologist to be a soft tissue mass in the shoulder. The Defendant, however, interpreted the MRI to show type of mass that was fluid-based “containing joint debris.” The Defendant told the Plaintiff that he would remove the fluid during the rotator cuff surgery. He did not, however, discuss any other type of mass with the Plaintiff and did not seek consent to remove any other type of mass.

When he opened the Plaintiff’s shoulder, the Defendant discovered that the object on the MRI was in fact a soft tissue mass, not a fluid pseudocapsule as he had expected. The Defendant nonetheless decided to excise (remove) the mass which was later determined by the pathology department to be benign. In the course of removing the mass, the Defendant caused permanent and irreparable damage to the Plaintiff’s axillary nerve which enervates the anterior deltoid. As a result, the Plaintiff experienced significant atrophy of his anterior deltoid muscle and lost the capacity to perform instrumented spine surgery, leaving him with a significant future wage loss.

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Severe back or pain is one of the more debilitating conditions facing many Americans today. Lower back pain, which starts below the ribcage, is called lumbar back pain. Mid-back pain, centrally located, is called thoracic back pain. Neck pain is often referred to as cervical pain. Sometimes this pain comes on suddenly (acutely) following an injury from an athletic activity or fall. In other cases, the pain comes on slowly and lasts for months and months, if not years. In many of these instances, the pain is caused either by degeneration of the spinal cord discs. Spinal cord discs are gel-like spacers that occupy the spaces between the spinal cord vertebrae. These discs are prone to wear and tear from injuries or from mere aging. As these discs weaken, the discs can bulge out of the normal disc space, or even rupture, which in turn, puts pressure on the spinal nerve roots that run through the back region. Discs that extend slightly outside that normal disc space are often called “bulging” or “herniated” discs. Intense pain often results when these herniated/bulging discs put pressure on the surrounding nerve roots. In many instances, the pain can radiate into a person’s buttocks or down into their legs. In severe cases, the herniation can result in loss of bowel or bladder control, leg weakness or even paralysis.

Initially, back pain is treated conservatively with over the counter pain medications or even prescription pain medications or muscle relaxants. If those treatments fail, your orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon may recommend you for what is known as a spinal cord stimulator. A spinal cord stimulator is a device that uses an electrical current to treat chronic pain. Essentially a small pulse generator is used to send electrical pulses to the spinal cord in an attempt to interfere with the nerve impulses that make you feel pain. Typically, doctors will first insert a temporary electrode into your body as a trial. That electrode is controlled by the patient with a hand-held stimulator. If the trial proves successful, the physician will typically implant a permanent stimulator under your skin.

During the course of the spinal cord stimulator implantation procedure, the physician inserts “leads”, paddle shaped device containing the electrodes, into the spinal canal, just above the spinal cord. That space is called the spinal epidural space (the outermost area of the spinal canal). The leads are inserted either through what is called a percutaneous approach (utilizing a wide bore needle to insert the paddle lead into the epidural space) or through a surgical laminectomy/laminotomy procedure (where the vertebrae at the affected level is temporarily removed so as to gain access to the epidural space through an incision in the ligament that protects the spinal cord. The paddle leads are then sutured in place and a generator (battery) is implanted in the patient’s side and connected to the leads. The spinal cord stimulator implantation procedure, while common, carries a high degree of risk of spinal cord injury, including paralysis, loss of bowel/bladder function, etc.

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Some of the most obvious medical mistakes are those in which the doctor operates on the wrong part of the patient’s body. This type of negligence can occur in a variety of situations. The doctor may be careless in his or her reading of the medical chart or the doctor may fail to accurately identify the correct anatomy prior to operating on a structure.

For example, we recently handled a case in which a young woman presented for removal of an ovary that was stricken with an ovarian cyst. During the surgery, the surgeon negligently removed the wrong ovary, which had been healthy. As a result of this careless mistake, a woman with many child-bearing years remaining could be unable to have any more children. She will require an additional, otherwise unnecessary surgery and if the cyst cannot be removed without removing the ovary, removal of the entire ovary will cause her to become permanently infertile and require hormone therapy for life.

These types of medical mistakes can have devastating effects on the patient’s health and, as in the situation described above, can seriously change the plans that a patient has for his or her own life. Notwithstanding how clear these mistakes may appear to be, a competent defense lawyer is often able to create issues that can call in to question whether the doctor was at fault. Therefore, even clear cases of medical malpractice such as these should be reviewed and pursued only by experienced medical malpractice lawyers.