Sommers Schwartz attorney Kenneth Watkins secured a $1.35 million neurosurgical malpractice settlement on behalf of a 40-year-old woman who died after undergoing spine surgery. The decedent was the mother of three children who had developed severe cervical neck pain following a motor vehicle accident.
Conservative measures failed to alleviate the decedent’s pain after the crash, and she underwent an anterior cervical discectomy with allograft fusion and plating at the defendant-hospital. During the procedure, a tear occurred in the thin covering over the spinal cord, typically caused when a surgical instrument nicks the covering. Because of the complication, cerebral spinal fluid leaked at C3-4.
When the surgery concluded around 5 p.m., the decedent was transferred to the surgical floor with a Morphine pump, but no immediate post-operative concerns were identified. She began complaining of a “throbbing headache” at approximately 9 p.m.; morphine was discontinued, and she was given Demerol, Vistaril, and Diamox. At approximately 12:15 a.m., nursing staff recorded the decedent’s vital signs and noted her complaints of “generalized weakness.”
The nursing staff did not notify the defendant-neurosurgeon of the patient’s generalized weakness or her persistent throbbing headache. At approximately 3:30 a.m., she was found lifeless in her hospital bed and did not respond to resuscitative efforts.
An autopsy revealed hemorrhagic contusion in the grey matter of the spinal cord, in the same vicinity as the dural rent identified at C3-4. A toxicology report detected opiates and barbiturates in the decedent’s system and toxic Demerol levels. The pathologist concluded the cause of death was a cervical cord contusion and complications sustained during surgical manipulation.
The plaintiff, as personal representative of the decedent’s estate, filed a wrongful death suit against the defendant-neurosurgeon for various acts of medical malpractice, including failure to recognize the C3-4 spinal cord contusion during surgery yet performing a procedure on the area when it was not indicated, failure to use electronic monitoring of the spinal cord during surgery, failure to provide an adequate neurological examination post-op, and failure to admit the patient to the ICU for the first 24-48 hours post-surgery. The suit also alleged the defendant-hospital’s nursing staff failed to adequately monitor the decedent after surgery.