WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A jury awarded $55.9 million to a Pomona woman and her husband after a medical malpractice trial over allegations that a botched spinal surgery left her a quadriplegic.
The woman, Patricia Jones, was 56 when she underwent surgery in 2009, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, after complaining of pain and tingling in her arms, hands and neck, said her lawyer, Evan Torgan.
During a surgery intended to alleviate her pain, Jones became injured when a piece of fractured bone became embedded in the protective covering of the spinal cord, which caused a contusion to the cord, he said. The procedure, called a laminectomy, was performed by Dr. George Alexander Jones, who was assisted by Dr. Daniel Spitzer.
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Torgan described a series of alleged medical failures during the five-month trial in New City before state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen, trial transcripts show.
Although testing to monitor the spinal cord during the procedure detected an injury, the doctors proceeded with the surgery and stated in their records that there were no adverse events, Torgan said in his opening statement.
“On August 18th, 2009, Patricia Jones walked into Good Samaritan Hospital,” Torgan told the jury. “What she didn’t know is that those would be the last steps that she would ever take.”
He added: “What she didn’t know is that surgeons, who were operating on her neck, would find out that her cords had been damaged through monitors during the procedure. And what she now knows is they didn’t tell anybody that.”
The day after surgery, Patricia Jones’ blood pressure dropped and she became paralyzed, but a CAT scan to find out why wasn’t ordered until three hours later, her lawyer said.
The CAT scan read by an outside radiologist showed an epidural hematoma — a collection of blood pressing on the spinal cord. However, neurosurgeons from Jones and Spitzer’s group, Hudson Valley Neurosurgical Associates (now known as Hudson Valley Brain and Spine), determined there was no hematoma, Torgan said. Instead, they told Patricia Jones her spinal cord had suffered a stroke.
If it had been properly diagnosed they could have removed the hematoma and that would have alleviated the paralysis, Torgan said.
Torgan said Patricia Jones’ “existence has been marred by a physical disability that never had to happen, that didn’t have to happen if it weren’t for departures from accepted standards of medical practice.”
“She’s been in a wheelchair since August of 2009 because they didn’t want to tell anyone what happened in the OR,” he said.
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The jury awarded Patricia Jones $20 million for pain and suffering, plus additional amounts for lost earnings, medical and nursing care, therapy, medications, equipment, modifications to her home and other costs, according to the verdict. Her husband, John “Jack” Jones, was awarded $10 million for lost services.
The verdict, calculated at $55.9 million by Torgan’s firm in part based on Patricia Jones’ future needs, is the largest one in a Rockland County medical-malpractice case, based on cases reported to VerdictSearch’s nationwide database of verdicts and settlements.
Under New York state law, the $55.9 million award is reduced by 50 percent representing the fault of the parties that settled before the verdict, leaving Jones and Spitzer liable for the other 50 percent, or nearly $28 million, Torgan said.
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Additionally, Good Samaritan Hospital and several of its nurses originally named in the case have settled for $6.2 million; Ramapo Radiology, which was hired to read the MRIs and CAT scans, settled for $5.6 million, according to court papers.
A Good Samaritan spokeswoman said the case occurred more than a decade ago under previous hospital ownership, and she would not comment further. A spokesperson for Ramapo Radiologists could not be reached for comment.
In his opening statement, Torgan also criticized the doctors for recommending surgery for Jones without first trying physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs or acupuncture.
Patricia Jones, now 66, and her husband, now 67, both went to Spring Valley High School, got married and owned a stationery store together, according to Torgan. She later worked for the cosmetics companies Georgette Klinger and Shiseido.
Defense: Patient had stroke
In his opening statement at trial, Carl Weinberg, defense attorney for Jones and Spitzer, disputed Torgan’s position that Patricia Jones suffered a hematoma during the surgery, instead claiming she suffered a spinal cord infarction, or stroke, afterward.
Weinberg told jurors, “The fact of the matter is Mrs. Jones sustained a spinal cord infarction and there was nothing that could have been done about it.”
Monitoring during the surgery that Torgan claimed detected a spinal injury could be explained as a “false positive,” Weinberg claimed.
He said Patricia Jones’ blood pressure was stable and normal 24 hours after the surgery, and during an examination by a nurse she was able to move her arms and legs.
Her blood pressure later dropped and she started losing sensation and strength in her limbs and became lethargic, Weinberg said.
Neurosurgeons, radiologists and at least one neuroradiologist who viewed an MRI agreed this was an infarction, he said. None saw evidence of a hematoma.
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The defense lawyer said Patricia Jones was suffering from spinal stenosis — a degenerative, progressive condition that could have become permanent. Both Jones and Spitzer thought surgery was “appropriate and justified.”
Proper informed consent was obtained from Patricia Jones beforehand about risks, benefits and alternatives to surgery, Weinberg said.
“For Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I’m sure this was a terrible, terrible event, a tragic result,” Weinberg told jurors. “Our difference of opinion is whether or not it was the fault of anybody.”
Weinberg was on vacation and did not respond to email or phone messages this week.
The defendants’ attorney indicated he would be appealing the verdict, according to Torgan.
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This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Woman wins $55.9M malpractice verdict after botched spinal surgery