postoperative errors cause brain injury jury awards 23 million

An Alachua County, Florida, jury has awarded $23 million in damages to a St. Petersburg woman after surgical and postoperative negligence caused a permanent, disabling brain injury. The woman also received $1 million in a pre-trial settlement of a nursing error claim.

The plaintiff was 35 years old when she sought treatment at Shands at the University of Florida hospital in 2006. She had been experiencing severe headaches and other symptoms, and tests discovered a non-bleeding aneurysm in her brain. A Shands neurosurgeon performed a surgery to insert coils into the aneurysm.

After the surgery, the woman was put on a blood-thinning medication. As she recovered, she began experiencing symptoms that indicated she had suffered a stroke, which should have caused her medical team to immediately stop the blood thinner. Unfortunately, even though her nurse observed the stroke symptoms, the blood thinner was not stopped.

By the time the delayed diagnosis of stroke was ultimately made and the blood-thinner was stopped, the woman’s brain had filled with blood. She had sustained a significant brain injury. Since the surgery, the woman has had to be hospitalized ten additional times for infections caused by the complications.

According to the lawsuit, the woman’s acquired brain injury has paralyzed her on one side of her body, impaired her vision, affected her ability to reason and caused her to suffer persistent pain and numerous medical problems. She requires constant care, which her husband has had to provide. As a result, he has been unable to work.

The jury determined that hospital negligence was to blame for the brain injury and that University of Florida should bear entire responsibility for the $23 million judgment.

“I think it makes a statement that people in Gainesville are going to deliver justice,” one of the attorneys representing the woman and her family told the press.

Plaintiff and Family May Only Receive $200,000 of Judgment Against Hospital

According to the Gainesville Sun, the University of Florida is protected by a sovereign immunity statute in Florida which limits its liability to $200,000. State lawmakers would have to pass a bill to award the woman, her husband and her four children an amount exceeding that liability cap.

There were originally two non-governmental defendants in the lawsuit who would not have been subject to the sovereign immunity cap: Shands at the University of Florida and the staffing agency that provided the nurse. Shands was dropped from the lawsuit before trial, and the jury awarded no judgment against the staffing agency.

The final award of damages will be subject to post-verdict motions.

“Our concern is always with our patients and their families,” said a spokesperson for the University of Florida in a written statement. “Since the final outcome of this case is uncertain, we decline further comment.”

What Do You Think?

Do you think a sovereign immunity cap is a good idea because it protects health care providers? Or does such a cap make it difficult or impossible for victims of medical malpractice to receive the compensation they deserve?

Source: Gainesville Sun, “Jurors award $23 million in suit against UF,” Nathan Crabbe, December 24, 2010

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