Doctors Do More Defensive Medicine After Colleagues Get Sued

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

September 23, 2019

In This Article

Record Malpractice Award for Surgery That Went Wrong

A New York woman whose spinal surgery left her a quadriplegic was awarded nearly $56 million, reports a story in the Rockland/Westchester Journal News, among other news outlets.

In 2009, after complaining of pain and tingling in her arms, hands, and neck, Rockland County resident Patricia Jones was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital, in Suffern, New York, for a laminectomy to alleviate her pain. The procedure was performed by two neurosurgeons from what is now Hudson Valley Brain and Spine.

During the procedure, a piece of fractured bone allegedly became embedded in the protective layer of Jones's spinal cord, causing a contusion. A monitoring device detected the injury in real time, but Jones's doctors neither alerted anyone to the fact nor halted the procedure, according to her attorney's opening court statement.

By the following day, Jones's blood pressure had dropped, and she became paralyzed. A CT scan—read by an outside radiologist—indicated a hematoma pressing on her spinal column. At trial, Jones's attorney argued that had the clot been diagnosed and treated during the procedure, the patient would have in all likelihood avoided the injury that left her a quadriplegic.

The defense disputed that claim, however, stating that Jones had suffered a spinal cord infarction, or stroke, during the procedure and that her doctors had been helpless to alleviate it. As for the monitoring device that had detected a spinal cord injury, the defense argued that this could have been the result of a false-positive reading. Indeed, defense experts who viewed an MRI of Jones's spinal cord said they saw no evidence of a hematoma, agreeing that she had sustained an infarction during her laminectomy.

The trial jury disagreed and awarded Jones and her husband what was reported to be the largest medical malpractice judgment in Rockland County history.

Under New York State law, though, the $55.9 million judgment will be reduced by 50%, reflecting the combined liability of the parties, including Good Samaritan Hospital, which settled before the verdict. Despite this reduction, the defendants remain on the hook for the other 50% of the jury award, or nearly $28 million.

The defendants' attorney has indicated that he will appeal the verdict.

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