A Florida jury believed that a 2008 anesthesia error left a young Florida father in a permanent vegetative state, and in May 2013, the jury awarded the man $23.57 million for past and anticipated medical expenses and $5 million for pain and suffering. Each of the man’s young children was also awarded $5 million.
The father had undergone a procedure called manipulation under anesthesia, which is designed to break up scar tissue around a joint so that the patient will regain full range of motion in that joint. The patient is put under general anesthesia because the procedure is extremely painful. The case before the jury contained two elements of medical malpractice. First, manipulation under anesthesia is a controversial procedure. Many insurance companies refuse to reimburse for it on the grounds that it is not medically necessary in many situations and is an investigational treatment at best in others. The Florida man’s lawyers maintained that the procedure was unnecessary in his case. The man did not meet the criteria for the operation. Unnecessary surgery that results in an injury to the patient constitutes medical malpractice.
Second, the anesthesiologist monitoring the man during the procedure failed to pick up on warning signs that he was not receiving sufficient amounts of oxygen. His attorneys demonstrated that their client went without oxygen for five minutes. Brain cells begin to die when the brain is deprived of oxygen for four or more minutes. In this man’s case, anoxic brain damage was complicated by a subsequent cardiac arrest and by an underlying diagnosis of diabetes. By failing to monitor the man, the anesthesiologist was operating in violation of standards for professional behavior.
The man’s two physicians were found negligent by the standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” a higher standard of proof than the “greater weight of evidence” standard more commonly evoked in civil litigation. Residents of Florida who face similar situations may find it helpful to speak with attorneys who may explain their rights and option and recommend courses of action.
Source: South Florida Times, “JURY HITS 2 DOCTORS WITH $38.5M IN MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE VERDICT“, Mohamed Hamaludin, May 23, 2013