Case: Medical Malpractice
By: William F. McMurry
The Plaintiff, Faye Thacker, was injured in a motor vehicle accident in December 2001. Her primary injuries were to her right knee, right shoulder, neck and back. She saw her family physician on several occasions after the accident. In January 2002 she complained about continuing pain in her right shoulder. After examining Faye's right shoulder, her family physician sent her to have an MRI of her right shoulder and referred her to Dr. Douglas C. Taylor at Purchase Orthopaedic Associates, P.S.C. in Paducah, Kentucky for further treatment.
Faye went to Dr. Taylor and told him that she was having problems with her right shoulder. Dr. Taylor examined Faye's right shoulder and read the MRI films. He diagnosed a torn rotator cuff and recommended surgery.
Unfortunately, Dr. Taylor wrote "left shoulder" in his office notes and called a local hospital to schedule a left rotator cuff surgery. Dr. Taylor's mistake was never detected and in March 2002 he performed rotator cuff surgery on Faye's left shoulder. Making matters worse, when he opened Faye's left shoulder Dr. Taylor he did not see the tear he had seen on her right shoulder MRI and, while looking for the tear, he did injure her left shoulder. Prior to that surgery Faye had not had any problems with her left shoulder.
Faye filed a lawsuit in the McCracken Circuit Court. Dr. Taylor defended the case by claiming that Faye told him she was having left shoulder pain and that he examined her left shoulder during the office visit. He admitted that he misread the MRI as being of her left shoulder, but claimed that the error did not affect his diagnosis or treatment decisions. He also pointed out that when pre-admission documents were presented to Faye at the hospital several days prior to the surgery, she signed a consent form indicating that the surgery would be performed on her left shoulder. Faye claimed that she signed those documents without reading them because she trusted the hospital. Finally, Dr. Taylor and other personnel present testified that left shoulder surgery was discussed with Faye on the morning of the surgery. Faye did not recall any such discussions, and noted that she did not speak to anyone that morning until after she had been sedated for surgery.
The case went to trial in October 2005. Prior to trial Dr. Taylor refused to make Faye any offer of settlement. At the close of Faye's evidence Dr. Taylor made his first offer to settle the case, and that offer was increased after closing arguments. Faye rejected those offers. She believed that because Dr. Taylor had denied any wrongdoing it was important for the jury to determine whether Dr. Taylor was negligent so that his mistake would permanently be a part of his record.
The jury returned a verdict of $158,620, consisting of $48,620 in medical expenses and $110,000 for pain and suffering, and determined that Dr. Taylor was 70% responsible for Faye's damages.