Our New York City medical malpractice law office knows that trust is essential in the medical arena. Every patient is relying on the knowledge and expertise of a trained professional when seeking help with that which is most important to them: their own health and well-being. This level of trust increases exponentially when surgery is involved, not only because of the seriousness of the procedure, but also because the patient is extremely vulnerable while under anesthesia. It is this vulnerability and this trust that makes a recent Texas case involving the secret and deceptive use of a surgical resident especially disturbing.
Lauren Williams, then age thirty-nine, underwent a hysterectomy in August 2008 at Kelsey-Seybold Medical Clinic in Houston, Texas. Ms. Williams had been informed that her surgery would be performed by Dr. Jim Patrick Benge, an experienced gynecologist who had been practicing medicine for sixteen years at the time. However, once Ms. Williams was anesthetized and thus unaware, a surgical resident performed at least half of the procedure. During the operation, the first of the kind performed by the resident, two of the patient’s organs were perforated. This fact was not discovered for three days and Ms. Williams became septic during that interval. She spent three weeks in a coma, had to re-learn basic functions such as walking, and will suffer a lifetime of consequences including the need for a permanent colostomy. These injuries persist despite five follow-up surgeries.
Understandably the woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in the aftermath of the situation. In court, the medical center and Dr. Benge asserted that it was acceptable for the resident to perform the surgery. The jury rejected this assertion and awarded Ms. Williams a $1.9 million verdict against the medical center. These damages seek to compensate the patient for past and future medical costs as well as the emotional impact of what has undoubtedly been quite the ordeal for the woman. As of this writing, the hospital had not commented on the verdict and there is no indication whether an appeal will be forthcoming.
Of course, doctors need to learn their craft. Every skilled surgeon began as a medical student and a doctor must perform a first operation before he or she can have performed many. Our New York City medical malpractice law firm understands this completely and knows that hands-on medical education is crucial. However, we cannot condone hiding the fact that a junior surgeon may be performing a surgery. Patients have a right to be informed if the doctor they’ve met and trust will not be the only surgeon responsible for the operation. It is also important that junior doctors receive proper supervision to ensure procedures are done safely. Additionally, proper post-operative care is crucial to preventing a surgical error from becoming a lifetime problem for the patient.
When a patient’s trust is violated by substandard medical care, a lawsuit may be appropriate. In the case of Ms. Williams, she was deceived by her doctor and the medical center and the deception led to her surgery being botched.
Why Compensation For Medical Malpractice Is Important:
I know all too well that no amount of money can undo a misdiagnosis or surgical error. But compensation serves two very important functions in our society.
First, it ensures that a family receives all of the financial support that is needed as a result the defendant’s negligence. Holding a defendant (or its insurance company) directly responsible for malpractice, helps society by placing the responsibility for the losses on the backs of the defendant’s insurance company, instead of the public through tax dollars. Second, compensation sends a message to the defendant, and others in a similar position, that the community is watching them. Just like in the criminal arena, there is a “deterrent effect” that is created by making a civil defendant pay compensation directly to an injured person. It has been long recognized by legal scholars that society is benefited by holding all defendants accountable for their negligence because it shows the defendant that it cannot get away with violating safe and acceptable standards of conduct in our society. This is the beauty of our legal system, both criminal and civil, in that we enlist members of the public to serve as jurors and actively participate in reaching verdicts that will make society safer for them and their own families.
Every plaintiff’s verdict that a jury reaches says two things: it tells the injured family that the community is “listening”, and it tells the defendant that the community is “watching”. To me, this is the greatest part of our jury system. To help someone who is in need, and simultaneously reprimand a defendant who has acted in such a way that society rejects.
Please let us know what you think.
See Our Related Blog Posts: