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$6 million awarded for surgical errors in infant's death

Many surgical procedures should be reserved to those physicians who have considerable experience with the current techniques involved and with the common errors that can occur. A physician apparently tried to perform a surgical procedure on a two-month old infant in a state other than Pennsylvania and committed surgical errors that led to the infant's death. The parents sued and won a $6 million jury verdict against the doctor and the employing medical center for medical negligence.

The doctor was ordered to pay $3 million to the parents and the medical center $3.2 million for their medical negligence. Recently, the trial judge refused to order a new trial or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The case stems from an emergency procedure performed by the physician at a medical center. The parents brought the infant in to the emergency facilities on Jan. 26, 2010. The infant had symptoms of bronchiolitis, an illness of the respiratory tract that commonly affects newborns and infants.

An infection can attack the tiny tracheal airways, creating a swollen condition in the airways leading to the lungs. Troubled breathing is the result. A rather common solution is to do a tracheal intubation. The physician performed the intubation, which involves inserting a tube down the child's windpipe to maintain an open airway. This Kentucky jury verdict declares that the doctor was professionally deficient in performing the intubation, which resulted in suffocation and the baby's death.

In a decision that would be appropriate as well in Pennsylvania, the trial judge struck down all of the defendants' post-trial motions, and instead ordered them to pay the entire sum, plus costs and interest at 12 percent. Although the specific surgical errors are not detailed in the public reports, there are several recognized ways in which the procedure can be botched. For example, one common error is the mistaken intubation of the esophagus instead of inserting the tube properly down the windpipe. The error causes air to be delivered into the stomach and not the lungs, which will cause death if not immediately rectified.

Source: The Independent Online, "New trial denied in medical malpractice case," Kenneth Hart, July 31, 2013

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