As surgical techniques become more advanced, more Americans are undergoing minor surgical procedures. And while many times these surgical procedures result in seemingly miraculous results, with the prior symptoms disappearing completely, some may also result in unanticipated side effects. A recent Cook County lawsuit serves as an example of some of the negative potential outcomes that can result from surgical negligence.
The Cook County lawsuit was filed against Gottlieb Memorial Hospital following a 2007 vaginal prolapse reconstruction surgery performed at its hospital. The surgeon, Dr. Robert Lai of Midwest Urology Associates, Ltd., was also named in the medical malpractice lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that the negligent post-operative care the plaintiff received resulted in permanent nerve damage.
The 50-some year-old plaintiff had presented to Dr. Lai for a reconstruction surgery that was meant to correct her incontinence, constipation, and vaginal prolapse. The surgery was performed and seemed to have been a success. However, as the plaintiff prepared for her discharge from the hospital the day after the surgery, she began to experience weakness, pain, and tingling in her leg and buttock.
Dr. Lai diagnosed a hematoma, or a bleed, as the cause of pain and weakness in the plaintiff’s leg and elected to treat it conservatively. However, ten days later the plaintiff’s pain and weakness had not yet resolved. Unhappy with her care, the plaintiff elected to terminate Dr. Lai as her physician and sought a second opinion with Dr. Brandt, a urologist at another hospital.
Dr. Brandt referred the plaintiff to another neurologist, who recommended she undergo an EMG in order to diagnose the source of her nerve injury. This test led to the diagnosis of a partial lumbar plexopathy or proximal sciatic nerve irritation. The plaintiff’s neurologist felt this injury was most likely caused by a suture placed during the surgery.
Within a week, Dr. Brandt removed a suture from the sacral spinous ligament plexus. During the initial surgery, Dr. Lai had placed 4-6 Capio sutures to attach mesh to the sacrospinous ligament, which is located near the spine. Once Dr. Brandt removed this misplaced suture, the plaintiff’s neurological symptoms resolved. However, she is still left with symptoms from the surgical error, which include pain, a noticeable limp, and the need to use a cane while walking.
At the Cook County trial, the plaintiff’s neurosurgeon testified that her condition was permanent. Her medical expert testified that if Dr. Lai had removed the suture within three days of her surgery that she would likely not have permanent nerve damage. And even if the suture had been removed earlier, plaintiff’s expert contended that the nerve damage would likely have been less. According to the plaintiff’s counsel, Don M. Sowers, Jr. and John C. Coyne, her main claim of negligence against Dr. Lai was that he chose not to timely diagnose and treat the misplaced suture, thereby causing her permanent nerve damage.
However, Dr. Lai argued that he met the appropriate standard of care: he ordered a neurology consult, ordered a sonogram to rule out deep vein thrombosis, and consulted with a radiologist to rule out a hematoma. Likewise, the defendants contested the extent and permanency of the plaintiff’s injury. The jury deliberated for 3 1/2 hours before returning a $1,580,256 verdict against the defendants that was composed of the following damages:
- $1 million past and future loss of normal life;
- $500,000 past and future pain and suffering;
- $80,256 for medical expenses.
The $1.5 million verdict exceeded the defendants’ $1 million insurance policy limits.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical negligence cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Bensenville, Chicago’s Bridgeport, Antioch, Orland Park, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, and Zion.
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