Patient receives $5M settlement for untreated 10mm spinal flexion injury + two other important cases you should be aware of

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published September 13, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A Louisiana man was awarded over $13 million after a jury agreed that his neurosurgical team’s failure to address a spinal flexion injury during surgery left him paralyzed.

  • A New Jersey woman settled with her neurologist after alleging his failure to order CT scans led to her vision loss. 

  • A Tennessee jury ruled that the neurologist and ER doctor who treated a patient before her death from encephalitis had not violated any standards of care.

When malpractice charges are brought against a physician, things can unfold in multiple ways. In many instances, cases will be dismissed before they ever make it to trial. When cases go forward, there are still multiple options: a plaintiff victory, a defense victory, and a settlement. The factors behind these disparate outcomes vary. Every case is made of individual elements that can influence the final result.

These three recent, notable neurology and neurosurgery malpractice cases each had a different outcome and are a good example of what can happen when malpractice cases move forward and head to trial. 

A multi-million dollar plaintiff award after spinal surgery leaves a man paralyzed 

A Louisiana jury awarded $13,837,200 to a man who was left with paralysis following a 2016 spinal surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. The plaintiff, Evan Kilpatrick, was 38 when he was involved in a serious car accident. He was airlifted to LSU Health Services Center for emergency treatment. A team of three neurosurgeons, Bharat Guthikonda, MD, Frank Farokhi, MD, and Richard Menger, MD, performed spinal surgery on Kilpatrick. Dr. Guthikonda led the team. According to records, the surgery was a C5-T-4 fusion and a T2-3 laminectomy.[] 

Kilpatrick was paralyzed following the surgery. According to court records, Kilpatrick alleges that his paralysis is the result of a spinal flexion injury, over 10 mm in size, occurring at the T2-3 level. He also alleges that the surgical team did not notice this spinal flexion injury during surgery and did not address it.  

Kilpatrick brought his case before a Tennessee medical review panel, arguing that the delay in care for the spinal fusion was the cause of his permanent paralysis. The panel agreed with Kilpatrick’s assessment of events but held that all liability fell to Dr. Guthikonda. The case against the additional two physicians was dropped when Kilpatrick filed a malpractice suit against Dr. Guthikonda and LSU Health Services Center in 2020.[]

The defense denied any fault or any treatment that fell outside the standard of care. However, one of the physicians who had served as a panel member on the case, neurosurgeon Andrew Vitter, MD, later acted as an expert witness during the trial. Dr. Vitter testified that any spinal flexion injury over 5mm is linked to spinal cord injury and that Kilpatrick’s 10mm spinal flexion injury was visible on intra-operative imaging. After five days of trial, the jury ruled in favor of Kilpatrick. His extensive damages award comprised $1,140,220 for past medical expenses, $5.5 million for future medical expenses, $370,000 for lost income, $1.5 million for loss of future income, and an additional $5,327,000 for non-economic losses.[]

A large settlement after a physician fails to order CT scans 

A nearly one million dollar settlement was reached in New Jersey in the case of a woman who alleges that her neurologist’s failure to order CT scans led to complete vision loss. The plaintiff had previously lost an eye to sphenoid wing meningioma. She was under the defendant's care for nine years following her eye loss. During her first five years of care, the plaintiff received regular CT scans to look for additional meningiomas.[] 

The defendant did not order any CT scans in the following four years. After this four-year gap in scans, the plaintiff had a CT scan that revealed a large meningioma in her remaining eye. This meningioma took sight from the plaintiff’s remaining eye, resulting in total vision loss. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that her neurologist should have ordered CT scans in the four years she went without a scan and that this lack of scans led to the meningioma not being detected until it had grown too large to save her vision. 

The defendant denied fault for the plaintiff’s vision loss. He stated that his treatment of the plaintiff was focused on pain management and that he believed she would seek treatment with another provider for additional symptoms and concerns. 2019, a $925,000 settlement was reached before the case went to trial.[]

A defense victory in a case of undetected encephalitis 

A Tennessee jury returned in favor of the defense in the case of the neurologist and ER physician caring for a 21-year-old woman before she passed away from encephalitis in 2007. The woman had a seizure at school and was taken to a Tennessee emergency room. After this ER visit, she was referred to the defendant, who saw her two days later. He conducted an EEG and multiple additional diagnostic tests and found that the woman had a seizure disorder. The defendant diagnosed the condition and prescribed Keppra.[]

A few days later, the woman returned to the ER with worsened symptoms. The ER physician who saw her at this time believed a UTI caused her symptoms. He prescribed treatment based on this belief and discharged her.[]

Three days later, she returned to the ER. Her condition had worsened significantly. At this time, encephalopathy was diagnosed. An aggressive treatment plan was initiated, but it was unfortunately unsuccessful. The woman passed away 11 days after her encephalopathy diagnosis. 

The malpractice suit named the treating neurologist who diagnosed the seizure disorder and the ER physician. It alleged that they were at fault for failing to consider viral encephalitis. It additionally faulted the neurologist for not ordering a lumber puncture during diagnostic testing. The defense for both physicians denied any deviation from the standard of care. They stated that an autoimmune condition likely caused the encephalopathy, and they could not have prevented the outcome.[] 

After a 12-day trial, the jury sided with the defense.

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