Jury Decides Against Hospital and Surgeon Who Died by Suicide; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

October 20, 2022

The estate of a renowned surgeon is appealing a multimillion-dollar award levied against it and the hospital system he worked for, according to the New York Post and other news outlets.

In November 2014, New York Giants running back Michael Cox sustained severe lower-body injuries, including a broken leg and a damaged left ankle, after he was tackled in a game against the Seattle Seahawks. At the time, Cox was in the second year of a 4-year, $2.3 million contract with the Giants.

Later, he underwent treatment at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), the oldest orthopedic hospital in the US, which is consistently ranked among the best. Cox's surgeon for the procedure was Dean Lorich, MD, then associate director of HSS's orthopedic trauma service and chief of the same service at New York–Presbyterian Hospital, also located in New York City.

But here the story takes a grim turn.

Lorich's surgery allegedly failed to fully repair Cox's left ankle, which led to the player's early retirement. In May 2016, Cox sued Lorich, HSS, and the New York–Presbyterian Healthcare System for unspecified damages. (Cox's attorney at the time reportedly claimed that Lorich hadn't properly treated the talus bone in the player's ankle.) Roughly a year and a half later, in December 2017, police found Lorich unconscious and unresponsive in his Park Avenue apartment, a knife protruding from his torso. The medical examiner later ruled his death a suicide, though there was no indication of why the surgeon took his own life.

The malpractice suit against Lorich's estate and the hospitals continued.

Last month, on September 23, a New York County Supreme Court jury reached its decision. It awarded the ex-NFL player $12 million in lost earnings, $15.5 million for future pain and suffering, and $1 million for past pain and suffering.

"The jury spoke with a clear and unambiguous voice that Mr Cox received inadequate medical care and treatment and was significantly injured as a result," announced Jordan Merson, Cox's attorney. "We are pleased with the jury's decision."

But an attorney for the hospital and the Lorich estate has called the jury verdict "inconsistent with the evidence in the case." The defendants will appeal the verdict, he says.

Docs Used Permanent, Not Temporary Stitches; Lawsuits Result

The first in what have come to be known as the "wrong stitches" cases has been settled, a story in The Ledger reports.

The former plaintiff in the now-settled suit is Carrie Monk, a Lakeland, Florida, resident who underwent total laparoscopic hysterectomy at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center several years ago. (The medical center is managed by Lakeland Regional Health Systems.) During that procedure, Monk claimed, her doctors used permanent rather than absorbable sutures to close her incisions. As a result, over the next 19 months, she experienced abdominal pain and constant bleeding, which in turn affected her personal life as well as her work as a nurse in the intensive care unit. She underwent follow-up surgery to have the permanent sutures removed, but two could not be identified and excised.

In July 2020, Monk filed a medical malpractice claim against Lakeland Regional Health, its medical center, and the ob-gyns who had performed her surgery. She was among the first of the women who had received the permanent sutures to do so.

On February 28, 2021, The Ledger ran a story on Monk's suit. Less than 2 weeks later, Lakeland Regional Health sent letters to patients who had undergone "wrong stitch" surgeries, cautioning of possible postsurgical complications. The company reportedly kept secret how many letters it had sent out.

Since then, at least nine similar suits have been filed against Lakeland Regional Health, bringing the total number of such suits to 12. Four of these suits have been settled, including Monk's. Of the remaining eight cases, several are in various pretrial stages.

Under the terms of her settlement, neither Monk nor her attorney may disclose what financial compensation or other awards she's received. The attorney, however, referred to the settlement as "amicable."

What's Causing Most Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Payouts?

Big-dollar personal injury and wrongful death verdicts are reportedly on the rise. Of the top three drivers of these so-called nuclear verdicts, medical malpractice comes in number three, says a September report by the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform.

The study's authors analyzed 1376 big personal injury and wrongful death verdicts between 2010 and 2019. About half were for between $10 million and $20 million, about a third were for between $20 million and $50 million, and the remaining 16% were for more than $50 million, including 101 verdicts that exceeded $100 million and were described as "mega" nuclear verdicts. The average medical liability nuclear verdict was $36.8 million.

Product liability cases accounted for 23.6% of the overall number of nuclear verdicts, the most of any category, followed by auto accidents (22.8%) and medical liability (20.6%). In the medical category, the most common suits were those alleging substandard nursing home care resulting in death, and provider negligence during childbirth that causes permanent injuries.

So, healthcare providers licensed to practice in any of the following 10 states might want to take notice. These states have the highest per capita nuclear verdicts, including those for medical liability.

They are, in descending order, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia, Wyoming, and Texas.

In New York, for instance, big-money medical liability verdicts (22.5%) are second only to those involving premises liability (29.8%). High punitive damages are relatively rare in the Empire State, and New York courts "have traditionally allowed them only in cases involving malicious or the most irresponsible conduct."

But, the Chamber of Commerce study claims, the personal injury bar in New York has urged juries, often successfully, to impose "extraordinary non-economic damage awards."

In Illinois, to cite another of the top-10 states, medical malpractice constitutes almost twice the national average of big personal injury and wrongful death cases. To put this into perspective, for the study period, Illinois juries handed down 75 big verdicts, amounting to about $3 billion. The median award in the Land of Lincoln was approximately $20 million.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA, is an independent journalist based in Mahwah, New Jersey.

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