In a recent case, a Kentucky estate administrator appealed a jury verdict finding that the defendant was not liable for medical malpractice and medical battery. The case arose when a woman came to a medical center complaining of pains in her jaw, chest and arm. A cardiologist put her on Plavix and did a cardiac catheterization. He found blockages in her arteries.
The cardiologist consulted with the defendant, also a cardiac doctor, to determine if she would be a good candidate for coronary artery bypass grafting. The defendant talked to her about different medical options such as CABG surgery and medical management. The patient decided to undergo CABG surgery. She signed a consent form and her Plavix was discontinued. She was taken to surgery and her anesthesiologist decided it would be better to insert a catheter into her right internal jugular vein. This procedure didn't work and while he was trying he accidentally punctured her superior vena cava, located behind her heart.
No one knew she had been punctured. Her blood pressure suddenly dropped during surgery, causing the defendant to dissect her pericardium to look at her heart. He couldn't figure out why there was blood. He finished the procedure. Before he closed her up, he nicked her pleura (the membrane around the lungs) to take out fluid. He saw a lot of blood and figured out where it was coming from. He asked for assistance and repaired it. At first the plaintiff seemed to be recovering. But later she suffered setbacks that resulted in serious respiratory problems. She died in 2002, 16 months post-surgery. Before her death, her attorney sued the doctor and anesthesiologist for medical negligence and also sued their employers for vicarious liability. Later the administrator of her estate added a party and claimed the defendant who had performed the surgery had committed medical battery, among other things. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant for the medical battery claim. The medical negligence trial commenced.
At trial, the administrator of the estate claimed the doctor had deviated from the medical standard of care by failing to get informed consent about the effects of Plavix; failing to delay the CABG surgery until the effects of the drug were gone; and continued with the CABG procedure before repairing the laceration. The jury found in favor of the defendant surgeon.
The estate appealed. The administrator believed that the doctor's privileges to perform surgery at the medical center had expired and that this trumped the consent form signed by the decedent. The appellate court explained that medical battery may be found where a patient consents to surgery, but the procedure performed is not the same procedure to which she consented. It can also be found where a different physician other than the one who obtained the consent performs the procedure.
The estate wanted the consent nullified because the physician lacked privileges, but the court did not agree. It found there was no authority to find that the current state of hospital staff privileges nullified an otherwise valid consent.
Medical battery and negligence is a very serious problem. Though this case was not resolved in the plaintiff's favor, it is always a good idea to have an experienced attorney review the facts of your case and advise you. The knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at Miller & Falkner may be able to help you. Contact us today for a free consultation.