On April 8, 2015, a jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas awarded $4.875 million to a medical malpractice victim represented by Marsha Santangelo, M.D., Esq., of The Beasley Firm.
The case involved a 50 year old woman who went to Dr. Eric Williams, an orthopedic surgeon at Albert Einstein Medical Center, for an elective spinal surgery including a decompressive laminectomy. A week after the surgery, she called the surgeon's office to report that she had a fever and that her wound appeared to leak a fluid, both of which are signs of a wound infection. Without consulting the doctor, a staff member at the surgeon's office told her they could give an appointment the next day, or that she could go to the emergency room. The patient then went to the closest hospital to her home, Underwood-Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, where the emergency room confirmed a wound infection with pus draining from the incision.
The emergency department staff at Underwood contacted Dr. Williams, who agreed to accept transfer of the patient to Albert Einstein Medical Center. Einstein, however, did not have enough beds, and so didn't accept the transfer, and, according to Dr. Williams, never informed him that they couldn't do the transfer. At Underwood, the patient continued to get worse, with severe pain in her legs that required intravenous narcotics. She wasn't transferred to Einstein until the afternoon the next day.
Incredibly, nearly all of Einstein's records from those first few hours are missing, but the records that do exist show that the patient still had neurological functioning in her legs and feet. Over the next few hours, virtually nothing was done for the patient: no medication, evaluation, monitoring, or intervention. Six hours after she arrived at Einstein, she was taken to the operating room, but by then it was too late: because her surgical would infection and epidural abscess had gone untreated for so long, she is permanently paralyzed below the waist. Due to her injuries, she is confined to a wheelchair, requires assistance for normal daily living, and can no longer work her job as a Philadelphia school bus driver for handicapped children.
On behalf of the patient, Dr. Santangelo brought malpractice claims against Dr. Williams, against the surgical resident who oversaw the patient when she was transferred to AEMC, and against the hospital itself. Dr. Williams and Einstein denied they were negligent and claimed that the patient was already paralyzed by the time she arrived at Einstein, despite medical records from the transport service indicating that she still had sensation and activity in her legs and feet. Einstein also claimed that the patient's injuries weren't caused by the infection (which was later found to be MRSA) but by a "vascular insult" to her spinal cord.
For the trial, Dr. Santangelo obtained reports from seven medical expert witnesses, including:
- A former hospital CEO who is board-certified in hospital administration;
- A neurointerventional surgeon who is board-certified in radiology and neuroradiology;
- A board-certified orthopedic surgeon;
- A board-certified neurologist;
- A cardiologist who is board-certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine;
- A board-certified emergency medicine physician; and,
- An orthopedic trauma nurse.
After 8 days of trial, the jury unanimously found for The Beasley Firm's client, finding negligence by the orthopedic surgeon (who was 34% responsible), negligence by the senior orthopedic surgery resident (who was 33% responsible), and negligence by the hospital (which was 33% responsible). The jury found the patient’s damages were $4,875,200.14, broken down as:
- Past medical expenses $20,180.14
- Past lost earnings $266,444
- Past noneconomic damages $750,000
- Future medical expenses $2,825,566
- Future lost earning capacity $263,010
- Future noneconomic damages $750,000
It is unknown at this time whether the defendants intend to appeal, but, if they do, Dr. Santangelo and The Beasley Firm’s two full-time appellate lawyers will be ready.