Final Verdict: $8.3 Million for Loss of Leg
Just a hundred years ago, amputation was common, particularly for acute injuries and infections. Medical science simply did not have the capacity to deal with many common conditions that today can be easily treated. Today, however, that’s thankfully not the case. It’s difficult to imagine any surgical outcome more alarming than the unexpected loss of a limb. When it happens, it’s the cause of great concern. This concern is redoubled when it appears that the tragedy may have been the result of a preventable medical mistake.
Medically necessary amputation may result from a series of acute conditions. By far the most common is a runaway infection that threatens the patient’s life. Certain pathogens can cause an infection that is too virulent to be treated using conservative approaches, and so the only possible treatment is to remove the infected area entirely. Another cause of amputation can be acute injury so severe that the limb’s function is no longer salvageable. For example, a leg may need to be amputated if the bone is so crushed that it cannot be repaired, or if a severed artery has caused tissue death in the affected area.
In many medical malpractice cases, it can be a struggle to show that injuries are permanent or severe. There may be a clear or even egregious medical error, but without permanent injuries, the case is not significant. In cases involving amputations, however, there is no question of the permanency and severity of the injury. The only challenge is determining whether the amputation was an avoidable result of negligence or an unavoidable consequence of an underlying medical condition.
In July of 2013, 82-year-old security guard Eloyd Robinson went in for a total knee replacement surgery performed by Dr. Rida Azer, an orthopedic surgeon. During the surgery, Dr. Azer determined that Eloyd’s femur had a crumbled surface that was not suitable for the knee replacement, so he performed a bone graft and then placed Eloyd’s leg into a whole-leg cast. Over the course of the next month, Dr. Azer had multiple opportunities to examine Eloyd’s leg. Unfortunately, Eloyd had existing blood flow problems in his leg, including peripheral vascular disease, a stent in the lower leg, and an ulcer on one toe that was not healing properly.
As a result of the cast and constriction, blood flow to Eloyd’s leg was seriously reduced. By the time Dr. Azer realized a problem in late August 2013, it was too late. Gangrene had set in, and Eloyd’s heel was “hard, black, reddish and mummified” with the death of several toes. His leg was amputated on August 23, 2013.
Eloyd sued, alleging medical malpractice. His medical malpractice attorney brought experts who alleged that Dr. Azer had made serious errors throughout the course of treatment which resulted in the injury. They argued that his use of tourniquets was excessive and a breach of the standard of care, and stated that his decision to not complete the surgery in the first place was contrary to medical standards. They said that his failure to review the vascular condition, including the stent and numerous other vascular indications, made everything worse.
Although Dr. Azer persisted that he had done nothing wrong, the Washington DC jury didn’t buy it. Before the week-long trial, Dr. Azer had offered settlement in the amount of $750,000, but Eloyd refused, demanding $5,000,000. After a single day of deliberation, the jury awarded Eloyd over $8.3 million in medical malpractice damages.