Medical Malpractice ­ Orthopedic Surgery - $509,000

Injuries alleged: Failed spinal fusion
Court: Suffolk Superior Court
Amount of award: $509,000

Case Summary:
A 23-year-old school teacher suffering from scoliosis underwent a Harrington rod instrumentation with posterior spine fusion performed by the defendant. The plaintiff was discharged later that month from the hospital wearing a full body brace. Five months later, the defendant allowed the plaintiff to sleep, shower and swim without the body brace without first having ordered any post-operative spinal x-rays. One month later, the defendant ordered x-rays which he read as normal and allowed the plaintiff to fully discontinue use of the body brace and further scheduled the plaintiff to return in one year.

Approximately five months later, the plaintiff, who had recently married, returned to see the defendant, complaining of mid-back ache and inquiring about the advisability of becoming pregnant. X-ray examination taken at that time revealed-that one of the Harrington rods attached to her spine had broken, yet the defendant advised the plaintiff that her curve was stable and that she could become pregnant.

The plaintiff immediately sought a second opinion and thereafter underwent the entire operation per-formed by her new physician followed by nine months of immobilization by body brace.

At the trial of this action, plaintiffs expert orthopedic surgeon testified that the defendant negligently allowed the plaintiff to be 'weaned' from her body brace without properly examining the ongoing spinal fusion mass by proper radiographic examination and failed to detect pseudoarthrosis (false union) in the fusion mass on the x-rays that he finally did order. The failure of the spine to properly fuse compounded with the lack of support due to the discontinued immobilization caused stress to one of the rods attached to the plaintiff's spine which resulted in breakage of the rod and the resulting loss of correction of the spine to approximately preoperative status.

Defendant's expert opined at trial that fusion failure and broken Harrington rods were accepted risks in surgery of this type and that the defendant's conduct did not deviate from applicable standards of care. No offers of settlement were made at any time prior to the verdict and the jury returned the above award on behalf of the plaintiff and her husband who had brought an action for loss of consortium.