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Spinal Injury Repair ‘Negligence’ Ends in $15.5 Million Verdict

A Florida jury has determined that a neurosurgeon was largely responsible for a man’s post-accident paralysis and has awarded the patient and his wife $15.5 million in damages.

Neurosurgeon Mark A. Fulton, MD, failed to diagnose and subsequently treat an injury that resulted in permanent paralysis, said the jury in a verdict that came after a monthlong trial in a Brevard County, Florida, circuit court.

The jury also assigned a portion (25%) of the blame to radiologist Jared Thomas, MD, who they said missed signs of catastrophic damage on the initial CT scan performed on the patient, Jean Magloire.

Both Fulton and Thomas were affiliated with Holmes Regional Medical Center, a level II trauma hospital in Melbourne, Florida. The hospital will be responsible for paying the damages, according to attorneys for Magloire.

“We are disappointed with the jury’s decision and we will be appealing the verdict,” Nicholas Romanello, executive vice president and chief legal officer for Health First, told Medscape Medical News. Health First owns Holmes Regional Medical Center. 

“Our doctors were able to save Mr. Magloire’s life after he was involved in a catastrophic vehicular accident,” Romanello said.

However, Magloire’s lawyers countered that Thomas and Fulton were negligent in their interpretation of the CT scan and for failing to order an MRI after a traumatic initial injury.

Kimberly Boldt, a Coconut Grove, Florida-based attorney who represented Magloire, told Medscape Medical News that the jury’s action is “very reasonable” for a case such as this.

No Spinal Precautions

On December 4, 2012, Magloire was painting lines on a highway when he was struck by a truck that pinned him to his work vehicle. He was transported to Holmes Regional Medical Center where doctors, working to save his legs, quickly amputated his right leg.

A CT scan was performed 48 hours after the surgery. Magloire’s lawyers proved to the jury that Thomas, the radiologist who read the CT, failed to mention a fracture of the T12 vertebra with a bony avulsion fragment within the spinal canal, and also failed to comment on an epidural hematoma within the spinal canal at the T12/L1 level.

Thomas also did not recommend a follow-up MRI.

Boldt reported that at trial, Fulton said he saw Thomas’ report and also read Magloire’s CT scan on his own. Magloire’s lawyers charged that Fulton also failed to see the bone chip in the spinal canal and was negligent in not ordering an MRI to follow up.

On Dec. 6, Fulton took Magloire off spinal precautions, which had been in force for the first 48 hours after the surgery, said Boldt.

Three weeks after the accident, Magloire told the nursing staff he could not feel his bowel movements. An MRI was ordered, and it showed a large herniated disc penetrating the spinal cord. Another physician told Magloire on Dec. 28 that he was paralyzed, the first time the medical chart made reference to a spinal cord injury, Boldt said.

She and her colleagues argued that the herniation caused irreversible paraplegia from T12 down.

The defense countered that Magloire was paralyzed on impact in the initial accident. However, Magloire’s attorneys said that if Fulton had properly read the initial CT and conducted an immediate MRI, it would have been possible to operate and alleviate the disc compression and thus prevent paralysis.

Magloire’s left leg was amputated in March 2013 because of injuries sustained in the accident.

No Damage Caps

Florida has no caps on any malpractice damages, so the jury was not restricted in its reward to the Magloires.

According to a verdict document shared with Medscape Medical News, the jury awarded $5 million in past non-economic damages and $5 million for future damages to Jean Magloire. He was also awarded $2 million for the medical care and treatment he could be expected to seek in the future.

His wife Elise was awarded $2.5 million in past and $1 million in future damages for pain and suffering.

“The case wasn’t about the loss of his legs,” Boldt noted. “There were a lot more options open to him if he did not have the spinal injury,” she said.

The paralysis “completely changed his ability to maneuver in the world with what was already going to be a significant disability,” she added.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including JAMA and Smithsonian.com. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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