On January 26, 2018, a Tampa medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in excess of $109 million in favor of the plaintiff who lost her hands and feet following minor surgery for a benign ovarian cyst. The now 52-year-old woman was a civilian intelligence analyst in late 2010 when she was not allowed to board a military flight to Iraq because she had not been medically cleared due to an asymptomatic pre-existing ovarian cyst.
The woman sought medical treatment in Tampa, where she agreed to undergo minimally invasive surgery for the ovarian cyst. During the November 1, 2010 procedure, the surgeon allegedly cut into her small intestine but completed the procedure and closed the wound without addressing the injury.
The woman experienced low blood pressure after the surgery. When her nurse escorted to her to the bathroom, the woman’s surgical wound opened and large amounts of bodily fluids flowed out. She became septic and experienced respiratory failure. Days later, the woman was returned to the operating room where the injury to the woman’s small intestine was discovered. Parts of the woman’s intestines, stomach, and abdominal muscles were found to be infected with flesh-eating bacteria. She had to endure additional surgeries to remove decaying tissue.
The medications the woman was given to increase her dangerously low blood pressure reduced the blood flow to her limbs, which led to gangrene that required that her hands be amputated below her elbows and her feet amputated below her knees. She had to relearn how to sit up in bed and had to learn, over time, to walk on prosthetic legs. She endured years-long recovery but still requires constant care. She suffers from constant abdominal pain. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of everything she has been through.
The woman filed her Florida medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and the surgeon’s employer. The Florida medical malpractice case was tried twice before, and both prior juries were deadlocked. The judge presiding over the first Florida medical malpractice trial ruled that the defendant hospital could not be held liable for the woman’s medical malpractice claims because she had signed a form acknowledging that the surgeon was not its employee and that he exercised his independent judgment. The retrials were against the defendant surgeon’s employer only.
The surgeon’s employer was the University of South Florida (“USF”). USF enjoys sovereign immunity and therefore the damages are capped at $100,000. The only way the plaintiff can recover in excess of the $100,000 cap is if the Florida Legislature passes a special bill authorizing a higher payment.
After the Florida medical malpractice verdict was rendered in the plaintiff’s favor, a spokesperson for USF stated that USF “has great sympathy for [the plaintiff] and we recognize the life-changing injuries she has suffered. We also believe that the verdict that was delivered was not supported by the evidence. We will be carefully evaluating several grounds for appeal.”
If you or a loved one suffered serious harm as a result of medical negligence in Florida or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Florida medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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