On August 1, 2019, a Van Nuys jury returned a defense verdict before Judge Frank Johnson. Bob Packer and Paul Corson defended a neurosurgeon in a suit in which plaintiff developed permanent quadriplegia following cervical spine surgery. In March 2017, the patient underwent cervical spine surgery to relieve relatively mild symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis. POC’s client performed posterior cervical laminectomies C-3 through C-7 with instrumented fusion. Initially, the patient did well, but 11 days post-surgery, after bathing at home, he became suddenly quadriplegic. Paramedics rushed the patient to the emergency department where he was assessed for multiple potential causes. Although off-call to his associate, the neurosurgeon happened to be at the hospital when the patient was admitted to the ER and participated in the evaluation. Although a post-operative bleed so long after surgery was deemed to be an unlikely cause, a cervical MRI was ordered. There were delays in obtaining the MRI (it was the evening of Easter Sunday), and while the results were pending, the neurosurgeon advised the patient and his wife that he was leaving the hospital, but that his associate would be available in the event the MRI revealed a surgically correctable problem. It was revealed to the jury that he left in order to make a flight from LAX to Costa Rica. The neurosurgeon on-call assured everyone that he would arrive at the hospital to perform a timely operation if the MRI was positive. At 9:30 p.m., the MRI showed a massive cervical epidural hematoma compressing the spinal cord. 90 minutes later, the on-call surgeon arrived, took the patient to surgery and removed the blood clot. However, the patient only regained some slight movement in his left hand and remains essentially quadriplegic today. Plaintiff’s Life Care Planner estimated future care costs to be about $5 Million, which was not significantly contested.
Plaintiff’s neurosurgical expert testified that although an MRI was necessary before surgery, the only obvious cause of the patient’s sudden decompensation was an epidural bleed/clot. He testified the clot could have and should have been removed hours before it was. Had that been done, the patient would have had significant neurological improvement, although the degree of improvement could not be quantified. Defendant’s neurosurgical and neurological experts explained that based upon the patient’s condition upon arrival to the ER and up to the time of surgery, it was highly unlikely that earlier decompression of the cord would have made much difference.
All of the multiple co-defendants were dismissed prior to trial for a waiver of costs, despite evidence of inexcusable delays in obtaining the MRI and in not arriving at the hospital closer to the time the MRI results were available.
Defendant’s expert testified that under the circumstances, it was within the standard of care for the neurosurgeon to leave the hospital prior to the arrival of the on-call replacement surgeon. Even if he had stayed and missed his vacation flight, and performed the surgery earlier, it most likely would have made no difference in the outcome. Plaintiff’s counsel’s main argument was that no physician should ever leave a patient in such an emergent situation.
After about 6 hours of deliberations, the jury found that the POC client was not negligent, and therefore did not reach the issue of causation. The poll was 11-1.