Mind-boggling medical malpractice claims

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 7, 2020

Key Takeaways

The good news in medical malpractice liability is that the numbers of claims are continuing to go down. The bad news? The cost of big-dollar verdicts is going up, according to a recent industry report

Doctors may want to keep up-to-date with major malpractice lawsuits in the news, such as these that occurred in 2019. 

Largest-ever malpractice verdict awarded to victim’s mother

In what’s been described as the largest medical malpractice verdict in US history, a jury awarded $229 million to a mother after finding that staff at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, MD, acted negligently during the birth of the woman’s daughter. As a result, the young girl now suffers from spastic cerebral palsy and requires 16 hours a day of skilled nursing care.

The mother, Erica Byrom, was 25 weeks pregnant with severe preeclampsia when she was transferred to the hospital from another facility. Attorneys for Byrom argued that she was given inaccurate information about the status of her then-unborn baby. According to allegations in the lawsuit, she declined a Cesarean section because her doctors had incorrectly told her the baby would die or suffer brain damage. The delivery lasted 22 hours, during which the infant didn’t get enough oxygen to the brain, which resulted in a brain injury. 

“Cases like these are tragic and our hearts go out to this child and the people who are caring for her,” said a representative from Johns Hopkins Medicine. “However, while federal privacy laws limit our ability to discuss the details of a specific case, we are confident in the care this patient received, and we have provided ample evidence in the public record that the mother declined our recommended care for both mother and baby, and that we appropriately informed her multiple times of all of the risks associated with her decision.”

The jury allocated $25 million of the $229 million verdict for pain and suffering. However, the judge reduced this amount to $740,000 due to Maryland's cap on non-economic damages, which still leaves a hefty award of $205.38 million. The judge also denied the hospital's motion for a new trial. However, Johns Hopkins is appealing that decision and taking the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

“The jury’s award in this case far exceeds what even the plaintiff was seeking,” stated the representative from Johns Hopkins. “There should be a better solution in the state of Maryland to meet the medical needs of children in these tragic circumstances. If that does not happen, the number of Maryland physicians and hospitals able to take the risk of caring for OB patients will likely decrease.”

Patients accuse famous psychiatrist of sexual exploitation

Four women filed medical malpractice lawsuits against celebrity psychiatrist Keith Ablow, MD, alleging he committed professional “boundary violations,” prescribed drugs inappropriately, and engaged in sexual relationships with them while they were his patients. 

Dr. Ablow is known for writing articles in major newspapers and magazines, as well as for authoring both nonfiction and fiction books. He also made numerous television appearances and was a frequent commentator on Fox News until 2017. 

In news articles about the lawsuits against Dr. Ablow in The Boston Globe, The Salem News, and The New York Times, his accusers—all younger women who he was treating for depression—described behaviors in which he sought to compel them to become emotionally dependent on him. They alleged that he also discussed or engaged in masochistic sex with them. For his part, Dr. Ablow categorically and completely denied the allegations.

In May 2019, the Massachusetts Board of Medicine suspended Dr. Ablow’s medical license, finding that he posed “an immediate and serious threat to the public health, safety and welfare.” The board contended that Dr. Ablow “engaged in sexual activity and boundary violations with multiple patients, diverted controlled substances from patients, engaged in disruptive behavior, including displaying and pointing a firearm on multiple occasions in a manner that scared an employee, and procured his license renewal fraudulently.”

Then, in late June, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the defendant reached a settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed. 

Baseball player gets ‘major-league’ settlement for botched surgery

In May 2019, former major-league pitcher Bobby Jenks won a $5.1 million out-of-court settlement after a spinal injury that cost him his career. He accused Massachusetts General Hospital and orthopedic surgeon Kirkham Wood, MD, of botching his spinal surgery, particularly because Dr. Wood was performing Jenks’ operation and another patient’s surgery at the same time. 

From 2005 until 2011, Jenks was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox and then the Boston Red Sox, taking home a World Series ring in his first year in the majors. But incapacitating back pain in 2011 eventually drove him to undergo spinal decompression surgery at Mass General. He was told the procedure went fine. But a few days later, spinal fluid suddenly leaked out of his wound, accompanied by a nearly deadly infection. 

After two more back surgeries just to be able to function (never mind playing baseball), Jenks eventually found out that Dr. Wood had been operating on him and another patient simultaneously. He filed suit in 2015. 

At the time of the settlement, the hospital stated Jenks had received "high-quality and appropriate care" and that "overlapping surgery played no role in this case."

In a recent tell-all article, Jenks describes how he became addicted to pain meds while trying to recover from his career-ending spinal surgery. He said he plans to use the $5.1 million to spread the word about the dangers of simultaneous surgeries: "I’m hoping to use my platform to start a movement in this country against concurrent surgeries. I don’t want more people to suffer as a result of a practice that is so obviously inappropriate and dangerous."

Doctor sues patient’s family for leaving a bad Yelp review

It’s not malpractice, but is it good practice? In a case of "man bites dog," neurologist Kaveer Nandigam, MD, Murfreesboro, TN, filed a $25,000 lawsuit against two people: Kelly Beavers, who wrote a negative review of his practice on Yelp, and one of her son's friends, who wrote a negative review on Google. Dr. Nandigam’s suit accuses them of defamation, libel, and conspiring to post misleading statements.

The review is still posted (although Yelp has designated it as one that isn’t currently recommended): “This "Dr's" behavior today was totally unprofessional and unethical to put it mildly. I will be reporting him to the State of TN Medical Review Board and be filing a formal complaint. How this guy is in business is beyond me. Since when did they start allowing Doctors, to throw a complete temper tantrum in front of Patients and slam things when they get upset? He does not belong in the medical field at all.”

Beavers told a local news station that she wrote the review after taking her father for an appointment at the practice, during which Dr. Nandigam “threw a temper tantrum” and slammed his clipboard when he realized she was recording the examination on her phone. She said she records every doctor’s appointment to make sure she won’t forget any details.

“He literally snapped and demanded my phone,” Beavers said. 

Dr. Nandigam hasn’t responded publicly. But even if he wins in court, he could lose in the court of public opinion. Beavers, by comparison, is drawing support with a crowdfunding page to pay for her potential legal fees. 

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter