Final Verdict: Eye Surgeon Not At Fault
“The eye is the window to the soul.” Vision is one of the most important senses that humans have, and we tend to be fiercely protective of our ability to perceive and see objects. The idea of losing eyesight is terrifying to most people. A recent study by Research America found that most Americans rated the loss of eyesight as more alarming and scarier than losing a limb.
As a result, the idea of eyesight loss as the result of medical malpractice or surgical error is particularly troubling. We trust optometrists and other doctors who specialize in ocular care to take every possible precaution to safeguard our sight. At the same time, we also assume that doctors who treat eye problems are competent and carry a high degree of expertise. No one consents to treatment for an eye condition imagining that there is a substantial risk of ending up blind.
When the impediment or loss of eyesight follows surgery or other medical treatment, however, we are quick to blame the physician who treated us. If the physician really knew what they were doing, we assume, nothing bad would have happened.
In May of 2012, 72-year-old Charles Long checked in to Baltimore Medical Center for eye surgery. The surgery, a cataract removal procedure, was to be performed by ophthalmologist Lenita Gorrell. After the surgery, Charles experienced iris and vitreous prolapse, a condition in which the lens is displaced due to trauma in the vitreous humor and irius. Charles also experienced choroidal and retinal detachments and completely lost vision in his left eye.
A little over four years later, Charles passed away due to unrelated causes. His widow, Beverly Long, hired attorney Marc S. Rosen and filed suit against Dr. Gorrell and the hospital anesthesiologist, alleging medical malpractice, eye surgery malpractice, anesthesiology malpractice, surgical error, Opthalmology malpractice, and a breach of informed consent. In the suit, which ultimately progressed only against Dr. Gorrell, the estate argued that Charles had been insufficiently sedated during the procedure, leading to movement.
Because Charles had a history of restless leg syndrome, he had a heightened risk of movement during any surgery. The estate used this to claim that Charles should have been offered the option of general anesthesia in order to reduce the amount of movement and associated risk. Additionally, the estate argued through its experts that Dr. Gorrell should have used a different surgical procedure. They argued that phacoemulsification, a quick and only mildly procedure, should have been used in place of the extracapsular cataract extraction procedure used by Dr. Gorrell.
However, experts hired by Dr. Gorrell disagreed. They stated that Dr. Gorrell was aware of Charles’ restless leg syndrome but it was well-controlled prior to the surgery and that movements during the surgery were not due to restless leg syndrome. They also argued that because Charles had a hard cataract, the extracapsular cataract extraction procedure was appropriate, and that Dr. Gorrell had not departed from the ordinary standard of medical care.
Prior to the five-day trial, the estate demanded $300,000 in damages. However, after just two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of no medical malpractice. Cohen & Cohen