Final Verdict: Surgical Error Slices Patient
Medical malpractice can be a difficult area of law. Even when there appears to be clear evidence of a medical mistake and significant harm as a result, the defense can still argue that the “standard of care” was not breached by the error. This is another way of saying that the error took place in the ordinary course of the medical procedure and could not reasonably have been avoided or prevented, other than by avoiding the procedure altogether. While seemingly harsh, this makes sense. We recognize that not every medical procedure will be successful, and some errors are bound to happen even if the provider takes every precaution.
However, just because a provider claims that the “standard of care” was not breached does not mean that they are right. In fact, this claim is common in medical malpractice suits. The guilty party never wants to admit that their mistake was actually negligent or makes them culpable in any way. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can hold “feet to the fire” to make sure the responsible party is made to pay for the damage they caused.
In May of 2012, 51-year-old clerical employee Marie Lynn Price received gallbladder removal surgery at Providence Hospital in Washington, DC from Dr. Gail Pearson. Initially, Marie began to recover normally, but by the following day began to show signs of jaundice. In adults, this is typically the result of biliary obstruction. After months of treatment, a series of diagnostic imaging scans revealed the existence and location of the hepatic obstruction which was causing jaundice. Dr. Pearson performed an additional exploratory surgery on August 20, 2012, and found that her former surgery had cut through the hepatic duct. Dr. Pearson closed Marie’s incision and informed her afterward that nothing could be done.
Marie’s condition worsened, and received a series of additional surgical intervention over a period of months before finally visiting Dr. Lynt Johnson, a hepatobiliary repair surgeon. Dr. Johnson eventually performed a complex repair surgery to correct the damage in October of 2012, from which Marie ultimately recovered.
After her recovery, Marie hired attorneys Michael Winkelman and Christian Mester, suing Dr. Pearson and Providence Hospital for medical malpractice, surgical malpractice, surgical error, and improper post-operative care. She alleged that Dr. Pearson had performed the initial surgery improperly, transecting the hepatic duct, and had also made errors during subsequent surgery. As a result of the error, Marie had to undergo multiple additional surgeries, additional hospital admissions, and suffer a lengthy recovery process with ongoing and permanent abdominal pain.
Experts hired by the hospital attempted to dispute Marie’s claims, arguing that even if there was an error, it did not breach the standard of care owed to Marie by Dr. Pearson. They also disputed that any mistakes were made in follow-up care and that the subsequent surgery was necessary. During the four-day trial, Marie’s medical malpractice attorneys argued that she had incurred $240,000 in medical expenses and was owed those medical expenses as well as pain and suffering.
The jury agreed that Dr. Pearson had committed medical malpractice. However, they ultimately only awarded Marie $75,000. Cohen & Cohen, P.C.