Final Verdict: Serious Surgical Error
Doctors commonly point out that complications are a known risk of any surgery and that surgical errors are sometimes unavoidable. That may be true, but it doesn’t absolve surgeons of responsibility when they make serious mistakes. No matter the risks, doctors are responsible for providing a full disclosure of possible outcomes in order to ensure the patient can make a fully-informed decision. They are also required to take all necessary precautions to avoid complications during surgery. If they undertake a procedure they aren’t qualified to complete, they are responsible for anything that goes wrong.
Surgeon Hitesh Pravin Amin was asked to perform a laparoscopic stomach lap-band removal for Renee Wiggins, a 36-year-old disabled woman from Prince George’s County, Maryland. Laparoscopic bands are used to reduce the volume of the stomach in order to assist in weight loss, and they can be adjusted, loosened, or moved using a flexible scope.
Typically, laparoscopic gastric banding procedures have a relatively low risk in comparison to their therapeutic benefits. The band cannot easily cause damage to the stomach, and so the only typical complications are slippage or an increased risk of infection. Unfortunately, when Renee went in for her band removal on December 10, 2013, disaster struck. The physician cut through the abdominal aorta, the main artery carrying blood to the abdomen and legs.
After the aorta was severed, Renee began losing blood rapidly. The blood loss was so severe that Renee had to receive over 3,000 units of blood — the equivalent of over 200 full blood transfusions — during the ensuing surgeries. A vascular surgeon was called in to repair the damage, but the impact was so severe that it caused shock and failure of multiple organs. To save her life, doctors placed Renee in a medically-induced coma for two weeks following the surgery.
Renee passed away from unrelated causes two months later. Her husband sued on behalf of her state, arguing that Amin had lost his way during the surgery, removing the camera that was supposed to guide him and manipulating his tools blindly. If it hadn’t been for Amin’s actions, they said, Renee never would have been injured.
In defense, experts brought by Amin’s attorneys argued that abdominal aorta laceration was a rare but known risk in lap-band removal surgery, and that the incident was not the result of any negligence on Amin’s part. During the six-day trial, however, multiple experts were called by the attorneys for Renee’s husband and estate who testified on behalf of Renee. Amin’s attorneys also argued that the injury had been rapidly detected and repaired, but the severity of the injuries, the amount of blood lost, and the length of time Renee spent in recovery made these arguments less convincing.
Because the parties had already reached a stipulated agreement as to the number of medical damages, the jury only reviewed the question of liability and non-economic damages. After just one hour of deliberation, they returned a verdict for Renee of over $1.4 million for medical malpractice and negligence. Call and attorney like Cohen & Cohen today if you have questions about a potential case.