$7 Million Verdict- Medical Malpractice – Failure to Diagnose Wrist Fracture

Summaries with Trial Analysis

$7 Million Verdict for Failure to Diagnose Wrist Fracture Evident on X-Ray. Includes Failure to Immobilize Wrist, Damage to Wrist Cartilage from Continued Use of Right Hand, Restricted Range of Motion, and Loss of Opportunity for Surgical Career.

The female plaintiff was a surgical assistant in her 30’s when she injured her wrist in a sporting accident.  The plaintiff claimed that the defendants, a general practitioner and a radiologist, failed to diagnose a right wrist fracture evident on x-ray resulting in continued use of the wrist for two months, which caused permanent cartilage damage.  The plaintiff, who was an intern at the time of trial, contended that the wrist injury precluded her from accomplishing a life-long dream of becoming a surgeon.  The defendant general practitioner settled prior to trial for an undisclosed sum.  The defendant radiologist argued that the general practitioner failed to point out the area of the fracture or to direct his attention to the area of the wrist to be evaluated.  The defendant also claimed that the cartilage injury occurred at the time of the original injury and not as a result of the failure to diagnose the fracture.

Failure to Diagnose Wrist Fracture After A Sports Accident

The plaintiff testified that, in June, 1987, she presented to her HMO (stipulated out of the case prior to trial) after she fell backwards on her wrist during a sporting event.  The plaintiff was seen by the settling general practitioner who diagnosed a sprained right wrist.  The plaintiff testified that, at her insistence, x-rays of the wrist were taken.  The x-rays were read by the defendant radiologist as negative for a fracture.  The plaintiff, in her capacity as a surgical assistant, continued to use the right wrist for suturing, holding clamps, and other repetitive wrist maneuvers.  Between June and August, 1987, the plaintiff testified that she experienced a progressive worsening of her symptoms including pain, crepitus (catching of the wrist), and finally a total wrist lock.

In August, 1987, an orthopedic surgeon, with whom the plaintiff worked, looked at the plaintiff’s original x-rays and noted a previously undiagnosed fracture.  The plaintiff’s expert radiologist testified that the fracture was clearly visible on the x-rays and should have been detected by the defendant radiologist.  The x-ray films were exhibited to the jury as evidence.  The plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that the continued use of the plaintiff’s wrist for a two month period caused shredding and tearing of the wrist cartilage and she will continue to suffer frequent synovitis (inflammation of the joints), loss of strength and a restricted range of motion in her right wrist and hand and may suffer future arthritic changes associated with the injury. This expert also opined that the wrist should have been immobilized regardless of whether a fracture was evident.

The plaintiff testified that the wrist injury curtailed her manual dexterity, made her incompetent as a surgeon, and forced her into the field of anesthesiology as opposed to surgery.  The plaintiff also testified that she had dreamed of becoming a surgeon since she was a child.

The defendant testified that the settling general practitioner did not provide him with enough information to direct his attention to the fracture.  The defendant’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that earlier diagnosis of the wrist fracture would not have made a difference in the plaintiff’s medical course.  This expert opined that the bone had healed properly and that the cartilage damage occurred upon the initial injury.

The jury found the defendant radiologist 75% negligent and the settling general practitioner 25% negligent.  The plaintiff was awarded $7 million.  Post-trial motions, claiming an excessive verdict, are pending.

Plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon: Robert Dunn from Princeton.  Plaintiff’s Radiologist: Lewis Rothman from New York, N.Y.  Defendant’s orthopedic surgeon: Scott Jaeger from Philadelphia.

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