A Hennepin County jury recently awarded $9.1 million to a man who became paralyzed as a result of spinal cord surgery back in 2012. The verdict, which is said to be one of the largest in over 20 years, was based on the accusation that the patient’s anesthesiologist failed to ensure the patient was property hydrated prior to surgery, and that this caused his blood pressure to decrease and left his spinal cord without adequate blood flow. As a result, the man lost the use of both of his legs.
Counsel for the private practice group for which the anesthesiologist works has denied that the patient’s injury was caused by lack of hydration. It isn’t clear yet whether the group will be filing an appeal of the decision, but the cost of the loss is obviously astronomical and will likely be financially destabilizing for the medical group.
The issue of causation is certainly an important one in medical malpractice litigation. Even when a patient can show that a physician owed a duty of care and breached that duty of care, the patient must be able to show that the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the patient’s injuries.
Proving that a patient’s injury is caused by a medical error is not necessarily easy. In some cases, a patient would have suffered the same poor result, even if a different course of treatment was followed. Tying a health care provider’s specific actions to a poor outcome typically requires expert testimony which can make that connection amply clear.
In our next post, we’ll turn to another interesting issue raised by this case: damages awards.