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When a Surgeon Ignores All Safety Protocols

When a spinal surgeon ignores all safety protocols, the outcome is severe injury to a patient and a medical malpractice court judgment for $2,550,000.

A Virginia spinal surgeon performed a posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) on a woman. In the course of the procedure, the surgeon used “shavers” to remove the damaged disc tissue. The surgeon lacerated two major blood vessels, causing profuse bleeding which necessitated infusion of 20 units of blood. Additional injuries and damageWhen a Surgeon Ignores All Safety Protocols - Altizer Law PC also occurred, including:

  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Stroke
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Permanent brain injury
  • Functional impairments.

What Went Wrong

During the operation, the surgeon inserted the “shavers” into the patient’s spine too deeply. This was the cause of the laceration of the blood vessels. How did this happen? The surgeon failed to follow not one, but three safety protocol. The standard of care was to use all three safety protocols in surgeries of this kind.

The surgeon claimed that he had, in fact, utilized all three safety protocols, and that the injury to the patient was a risk of the procedure, and nothing more. Plaintiff (patient) asserted that evidence in medical records and the physical evidence provided proof that the surgeon had, in point of fact, failed to observe any of the three safety protocols.

Safety Protocols Ignored

The three safety protocols relevant to this procedure are:

  1. Use of “intraoperative fluoroscopy.” The fluoroscope provides a live video x-ray that enables the surgeon to monitor and control the placement of the shavers during the procedure. This safety protocol, then, gave the surgeon a clear look inside the patient’s body in order to prevent injury to the patient by displaying the location, trajectory and location of the instruments.
  2. Use of tactile senses. The surgeon should have been able to feel if he was boring through disc tissue or through bone.
  3. Safety markings on instruments. The instruments (shavers) used in the procedure were marked to provide a check against insertion of the instruments incorrectly.

Evidence Presented

One expert, who testified for the Plaintiff, a neuroradiologist, presented plaintiff’s post-operative CT scan images. These images showed that a section of plaintiff’s vertebral bone extending from L4 to the location where the severed blood vessels had been repaired. Plaintiff’s current orthopedic surgeon outlined the damage done and explained how observing the safety protocols would have prevented these injuries.

After offering a number of explanations for the injury, the spinal surgeon finally admitted that until the trial he had not seen the post-operative CT scan and that he was unaware of the actual placement of his “shavers.” The spinal surgeon called an expert witness, an orthopedic surgeon, who conceded that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff could have been a result of negligence.

The plaintiff concluded that there had clearly been a failure to follow the standard of care as defined by Virginia law. She presented medical bills that totaled $546,000. She requested a financial award of $2,000,000.

The Verdict

After four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for $2,550,000.

No amount of money can undo the harm and trauma inflicted on the plaintiff due to the spinal surgeon’s negligence in failing to follow the standard of care. It also will never undo the surgeon’s indifference to the harms suffered by the plaintiff by claiming that the reported outcome was just a risk of the surgical procedure.

The courts cannot change what happened to the plaintiff. By the time the case reaches trial or mediation, the only available justice for the plaintiff is money. In trial or mediation, it’s about the money.

Altizer Law, P.C.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm or injury due to the negligence of a physician, surgeon, or other medical provider, you may have the basis of a legal action to recover a financial award. Call Altizer Law, P.C. and talk with Bettina Altizer or Terri Welch Luzynski. These trusted attorneys will help you to evaluate your matter and will represent you, if you wish, in pursuing legal action.