California Jury Awards $68 Million in Negligent Surgery Case
A jury in Fresno Superior Court announced what is thought to be the largest personal injury verdict in the county’s history earlier this month. The award was made in a case involving a heart surgeon found to be negligent as the result of leaving the operating room—and, in fact, the hospital—while a patient’s chest was still open. In the surgeon’s absence, the patient lost so much blood that he slipped into a coma from which he yet to awaken.A Disturbing Story
According to reports, the original surgery took place in April of 2012 and was intended to replace the 70-year-old patient’s aortic heart valve and to repair an aneurysm. The surgeon— who supporters called “brilliant”—specialized in high-risk procedures. Representatives for the patient and his family claimed the surgeon left the operating room before the entire surgery was finished, leaving a physician’s assistant to close the patient’s chest. Court documents further show that the surgeon not only left the operating room but the hospital altogether to attend a luncheon. Witness testimony indicated that the remaining staff tried to contact the surgeon when the patient’s excessive bleeding could not be controlled, but the surgeon did not return to the hospital.
To make matters even more complicated, the physician’s assistant was also the surgeon’s girlfriend at the time. The surgeon’s defense team claimed that the doctor only left the room once the patient’s condition was stable and that an “extremely rare complication” was to blame rather than negligence.
A former associate of the surgeon’s testified that this was not the first time the surgeon had left an operating room while a patient’s chest was open. Another witness said that she had confronted the doctor about the same issue several weeks prior to the surgery in question.Huge Pain and Suffering Awards
Experts witnesses said that the patient is a vegetative state, where is likely to remain until he dies, but that he still feels pain. The jury found the surgeon negligent and ordered him to pay $5.6 million to cover the patient’s medical bills. In addition, the jury awarded the patient $25 million for pain and suffering and the same amount to the patient’s wife. The patient’s wife suffers from dementia, and he was her primary caretaker prior to the procedure.
Just this week, the jury added even more, ordering the surgeon to pay an additional $12.4 million in punitive damages, bringing the total verdict to $68 million. Reports indicate that surgeon is currently in Pakistan with family, and it is uncertain if the patient and his family will ever see any of the money.
Furthermore, it also remains to be seen if the awards will survive challenges under California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). MICRA limits non-economic damages—which include pain and suffering—in medical negligence cases to $250,000. By law, juries in California are not told about the limit, so they often return much larger awards. Punitive damages, however, are not capped under MICRA.Contact Us for Help
If you or someone you love has suffered an injury as the result of a negligent medical professional, contact an experienced San Jose medical malpractice attorney. Call (408) 289-1417 for a free consultation with a member of our team today. We will help you understand your options and work with you in determining your best course of action.Sources