Final Verdict: Blindness a Known Risk
A lot of people claim to be able to predict the future. Unfortunately, it’s never quite that easy. The outcome of any medical procedure depends on a broad range of factors, including the patient’s age, current medical conditions, medical history, and genetic factors. There is no way to perfectly predict the results of a surgery or treatment, since not all of these factors can be accounted for. The best that any physician can do is to review all the likely risks with the patient and make sure they can make the most informed decision possible.
Another unknown factor in the outcome of a medical treatment plan is the action of the patient. A patient who cooperates fully and maintains a positive outlook is usually going to have a better outcome than a patient who fails to follow post-treatment directions or has a negative outlook. Physicians should never blame a bad outcome on a patient’s attitude, but patients are still responsible to participate fully in their medical treatment and recovery.
61-year-old Frank Johnson of Washington, DC went to ophthalmologist Gregory Butler to receive cataract surgery. Unfortunately, complications arose, and Frank suffered a rupture of the lens capsule in his right eye. This gradually caused pressure in his right eye, leading to retinal damage. He later saw Dr. Frank Spellman, a retinal specialist, but even a followup surgery was unable to repair the damage, and Frank lost vision in his right eye.
With the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney, Frank sued Dr. Butler for performing the surgery improperly and for failing to refer him to a specialist quickly enough. In the suit, which demanded damages totaling $450,000, he alleged that the ruptured lens capsule had been the result of Dr. Butler’s error. He also alleged that the pressure buildup had been time-sensitive and that if he had been referred within five days, there would have been an opportunity to save his eye.
Due to his partial vision loss, Frank suffered driving ability, reduced visual acuity, and associated distress. His wife, Renee Johnson, also sought damages for loss of consortium. During the seven-day trial, Frank’s medical malpractice attorney argued that the three-week delay in referring him to the retinal specialist was the single greatest factor in his loss of vision.
However, Dr. Butler argued that neither the initial ruptured lens capsule nor the failure to refer were the result of medical negligence. Dr. Butler contended that a ruptured lens capsule is a known and sometimes unavoidable risk of cataract surgery, and that Frank had accepted that risk by going ahead with the surgery. Dr. Butler also claimed that he had recommended immediate follow-up after the initial surgery, but that Frank had declined. According to Dr. Butler, it was Frank’s decision to wait on follow-up that had exacerbated his injury and contributed to the permanent vision loss.
The trial took place on November 2017, and the jury finally returned a verdict on November 15, after 35 hours of deliberation. While the jury did not dispute the blindness or the extent of Frank’s injuries, they ultimately concluded that Dr. Butler was not to blame and could not be held responsible. Cohen & Cohen