A jury found in favor of a man who was permanently paralyzed following spinal cord surgery.
On or about June 4, 2017, the patient sustained injuries while riding his motorcycle. He was admitted to a Level 1 trauma center. He initially showed no neurologic impairment and was able to feel and move all his extremities. A subsequent CT scan revealed, though, that he had incurred a T5 chance fracture.
On June 6, a neurosurgeon instructed the patient to wear a back brace for 6 to 8 weeks. Later that day, though, the neurosurgeon changed his course of treatment and recommended that the patient undergo surgery to treat his injuries. Despite his new recommendation, the neurosurgeon/spine specialist didn’t order a presurgical MRI of his patient’s thoracic spine. Typically, such a scan would have been used to determine any existing or potential spinal cord problems and any soft-tissue problems around the fracture.
Not having such information, the neurosurgeon was unaware that his patient had “an abundance of epidural fat, cord compression, cord edema, spinal abnormality, and spinal cord injury.”
The neurosurgeon’s operative plan, therefore, included neither decompression of the spinal column nor use of neurophysiologic intraoperative monitoring, which is used to gauge, in real time during procedures, both how fast and how strongly a patient’s nerves are carrying signals.
Late on June 6, the neurosurgeon performed surgery to fuse his patient’s vertebrae from the T2 to the T6 region. Following the procedure, however, the patient experienced a complete loss of motor function and sensation in his lower extremities. A postoperative MRI proved inconclusive because of certain distorting effects of the hardware implanted during the original surgery. Had a CT myelogram been ordered, it would have yielded a more accurate picture, as the plaintiff alleged in his complaint.
The patient underwent a second surgery, during which the neurosurgeon performed a T5 laminectomy. The patient’s loss of motor function and sensation persisted, however. He has been experiencing T5-level paraplegia ever since, with complete loss of control of his legs, bowel, and bladder.
In his complaint, the patient alleged that the neurosurgeon had repeatedly deviated from the standard of care. Among other things, the plaintiff claimed that he had failed in both of his surgeries to order the proper preop and postop testing, thereby jeopardizing the outcomes of each procedure. This gross negligence and recklessness, the plaintiff argued, led directly to his permanent and disabling injuries.
The jury agreed that the neurosurgeon was at fault and awarded the plaintiff $17 million in damages.