Jury Verdict for Doctor for Screw Allegedly Misplaced During Lumbar Fusion – Nyquist v. DuPage Neurosurgery, S.C.

In order to prove medical malpractice occurred, the plaintiff’s attorney needs to show not only the plaintiff experienced a poor medical outcome, but that it was directly caused by medical negligence. In the Kane County medical malpractice lawsuit of Melissa Nyquist v. Dr. Taras Masnyk and DuPage Neurosurgery, S.C., 06 L 421, the plaintiff’s attorney was unable to convince the jury that the plaintiff’s medical complications were caused by the defendants’ negligence.

The case facts centered on a spinal surgery the 34 year-old plaintiff had undergone at Central DuPage Hospital. Melissa Nyquist required a lumbar back fusion for a herniated disc at the L4-5 level. As part of the surgery, Dr. Taras Masnyk inserted four metal screws into the plaintiff’s spine. The screws were needed to stabilize the spine and fix the fused vertebrae in place.

However, following the spinal fusion, Nyquist began to experience foot drop in her right foot. A CT scan was taken to try and identify the underlying neurological problem that might be causing the new symptom. The radiology results showed that the surgical screw placed at the right L4-5 area had breached the medial wall and was actually extending into the spinal canal. And while the offending screw was removed the next day, Nyquist continued to experience right foot drop, along with lower back pain and sciatica, i.e. leg pain.

Nyquist followed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Masnyk for his surgical error, alleging that the surgeon had improperly positioned the right L4 pedicel screw which had resulted in a nerve root injury and Nyquist’s subsequent foot drop. Under this theory of liability, the plaintiff needed to not only establish that she had experienced foot drop, a fact that no one was disputing, but that it was caused by the defendant’s negligence.

However, the defendant doctor maintained that Nyquist’s foot drop was not caused by the misplaced screw. The defense pointed to the lack of evidence that the screw had ever come into contact with the L5 nerve root. Rather, the defense demonstrated that although the misplaced screw had in fact irritated the L4 nerve root for the six days before it was removed, the related symptoms resolved with the screw’s removal. Conversely, Nyquist’s foot drop did not resolve after the screw was removed, which begged the question of whether the foot drop was in fact caused by the misplaced screw.

Instead, the defense offered up an alternative explanation for Nyquist’s foot drop. It argued that the foot drop was unavoidable and due to the surgeon’s need to manipulate the right L5 nerve root in order to remove Nyquist’s herniated disc during the spinal fusion surgery. The defendant’s explanation provided an explanation for why Nyquist’s foot drop did not resolve after the misplaced screw was removed and shed doubt on the plaintiff’s theory of liability.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff’s attorney was unable to offer an alternative theory of surgical negligence that would refute the defendant’s explanation. And while the jury debated for about two hours, at the end of its deliberation it sided with the defendants and entered a not guilty verdict. At the trial’s close, the plaintiff’s attorney had asked the jury to return a $5.3 million verdict and had made a prior demand to settle the medical malpractice lawsuit for $1 million. However, the highest offer had been a combined $300,000 from the two defendants. Nyquist had requested the defendants’ offer, which in retrospect was perhaps a poor decision in light of the Kane County jury’s verdict.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois surgical error lawsuits for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Batavia, Bellwood, Deerfield, Evanston, Franklin Park, and Lansing.

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