On August 21, 2015, after a five-day trial and five hours of jury deliberations, a Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $2.78 in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case against a general surgeon who allegedly placed the plaintiff’s tracheostomy too high.
As a result, the plaintiff is required to breathe through a tracheostomy tube for the rest of her life (which must be replaced every three months) and to use a valve in order to speak. Because her airway is no longer protected, she is at constant risk of drowning if water should enter her unprotected airway. The jury’s verdict included close to $1.2 million for future medical expenses and more than $1.6 million for lost wages, pain, and suffering.
The Alleged Underlying Facts
The woman was involved in a car accident that caused her to lose consciousness. She also suffered blunt force trauma to her head and abdominal bleeding. She was brought to the defendant hospital where the defendant general surgeon operated on her to repair her lacerated liver. After surgery, the woman remained intubated for several days during which time her airway swelled. An ENT recommended that the woman be given steroids to treat the swelling of her airway but the defendant general surgeon allegedly prescribed smaller does of steroids that resulted in the continuation of airway swelling.
Subsequently, the ENT recommended a pulmonary consultation for a possible extubation using a bronchoscope. However, the defendant general surgeon allegedly did not obtain the pulmonary consultation but instead performed a tracheostomy during which he had difficulty identifying the necessary landmarks for the incision (the woman was morbidly obese and had a short, thick neck).
Several days after the tracheostomy, the woman experienced swelling and an airway obstruction was found, leading to the placement of a smaller tracheostomy tube. The woman was subsequently discharged from the hospital but returned weeks later due to a neck and chest wall skin infection. During that hospital visit, it was discovered that the woman had an airway obstruction, swelling, and airway collapse at multiple levels. It was determined that the tracheostomy had been misplaced at the level immediately below the cricoid cartilage (i.e., too high, according to the plaintiff).
The woman subsequently came under the care of an ENT who revised the tracheostomy in order to lower the incision and operated on the woman’s larynx and vocal cords. The woman required additional surgeries in 2009 and 2011 that involved using portions of her ribs and cartilage for reconstruction.
The woman’s medical malpractice case against the defendant general surgeon and the defendant hospital alleged that the defendants failed to provide her with the appropriate doses of steroids while she was intubated, failed to obtain the pulmonary consultation about proceeding with extubation before deciding on and performing the tracheostomy, and placed the tracheostomy too high, which caused permanent injury to her larynx and trachea.
The defendants denied that the standard of care had been breached and further argued that the plaintiff failed to comply with her home care regimen, failed to change her tube daily, and failed to wear a high-humidity collar on a regular basis. The defendants also contended that the woman had a pre-existing condition that required that the tube remain in place permanently.
If you or a loved one may have suffered serious injury (or worse) as a result of the medical negligence of a general surgeon in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a local medical malpractice lawyer in Pennsylvania or in your U.S. state who may investigate your general surgeon medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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