Final Verdict: Doctor Should Have Prevented Superbug
Even minor medical procedures carry risk, but it’s a doctor’s job to reduce that risk as much as possible. A doctor can’t assume that a patient will know everything about their condition or be able to provide all the information. After all, if patients were always able to diagnose themselves, doctors would be out of a job. A doctor needs to know all the risks of a procedure and ask the right questions in order to be able to guard against complications and unforeseen side effects. If a physician operates or acts without all the information, they can be liable for the consequences of their actions. With the help of their medical malpractice attornies, that’s what a jury in Prince William County, Virginia decided in February 2019.
Robert Murphy, a 50-year-old retail manager with diabetes, visited a podiatrist named Victor Coates in Manassas, complaining of foot pain. Coates determined that Robert had a serious ingrown toenail and recommended an avulsion procedure to remove a portion of the ingrown nail bed. Avulsion can occur by accident, when a nail is ripped from the nail bed, or surgically, in the correction of a condition like Robert’s.
MedScape warns of dangers associated with surgical nail avulsion:
Nail treatment and surgical options must be individualized based on the nail condition, the extent of disease, type of organism, and medical comorbidities. Patients with factors that predispose to infection, such as uncontrolled diabetes, prior methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, and immunosuppression, may require prophylactic antibiotics.
Not only did Robert have diabetes, but he had also suffered from a superbug infection. The rare bacteria Serratia marcescens had caused an infection just a month earlier which had placed Robert in the hospital, and he only finished treatment for that infection a week before visiting Dr. Coates. Even though Coates knew Robert was diabetic, he never asked whether Robert was predisposed to infection or had a prior history of infectious illness.
Coates prescribed no antibiotics at the time of the surgery or at the follow-up. Because Robert was diabetic, his wound took longer to heal and remained open for an extended period of time. This open wound was prime territory for S. marcescens, which returned with furor. Robert experienced extreme pain and exhaustion and was hospitalized later that month with septic shock.
Septic shock, or sepsis, occurs when an infection becomes so severe that the body lowers its blood pressure in an effort to stop the infection from spreading. It is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. In the hospital, Robert received chemical injections and antibiotics. His condition worsened, as the infection produced open wounds and sores on his legs. He wasn’t released to his home until December 16, 2014, nearly two months later. Due to his continued pain, he could not work after returning home and remained unemployed until his death.
After two days of deliberation, the jury determined that Coates, knowing Robert was a diabetic, should have asked about his recent medical history and thus known it was dangerous to perform surgery without antibiotics. Had Robert received antibiotics, the S. marcescens might not have returned and he would not have suffered tremendous pain and suffering, as well as permanent economic loss and disability. For Coates’s negligence, the jury awarded Robert’s estate $295,000.00 in damages. Call an attorney like Cohen & Cohen if you have questions about your case.