$1,200,000 Settlement: Preventable Hematoma

A 50-ish-year-old man had a lumbar laminectomy performed by an orthopedic back surgeon.  Approximately 24 hours following hospital discharge, he developed severe low back pain, as well as numbness in his groin and legs.

He was taken to RWJ for overnight observation, but despite his ongoing complaints of progressively worsening symptoms, which included reduced motor strength in his legs, the staff finally recognized he had developed cauda equina syndrome, and he was ultimately taken to the OR where a very large hematoma that was pressing on his spinal cord was evacuated.

We claimed there was too great of a delay from the onset of symptoms until diagnosis and surgery, and the delay was caused by a combination of the failure to appreciate the severity of the situation by the surgeon (who was out of state during this overnight period), and an orthopedic back resident.  In addition, we claimed the overnight nurse completely failed to assess the patient and therefore did not determine that he was progressively worsening overnight.

By the morning, it was recognized that he had lost all use of his legs and he had zero bladder control.  Surgery was performed later that day, but by then, his condition had permanent aspects.  We had to overcome abundant literature that provides there is a 24-hour window from the onset of symptoms to return to the OR, and here, the patient had his surgical revision within that time frame.  The case settled during jury selection for $1.2M.