On August 4, 2016, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho (“Idaho Supreme Court”) affirmed the verdict in favor of the surviving husband of a woman who underwent a liposuction and fat transfer procedure at an Idaho medical spa owned and operated by an anesthesiologist. The woman died less than a week later from septic shock caused by unknown bacteria in her right buttock.
The husband’s Idaho medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the bacteria that caused his wife’s death were introduced into her body during the procedure at the defendant medical spa because certain reusable medical equipment was not properly disinfected and sterilized.
The plaintiff’s wife had liposuction on her abdomen and flanks and had fat transferred to her buttocks at the defendant medical spa on July 21, 2010 that was performed by the defendant owner/physician. During the cosmetic surgery procedure, the defendant physician used both disposable and reusable medical equipment.
During the morning on July 25, 2010, the plaintiff’s wife was admitted to the hospital for abnormally low blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and potential multi-organ failure. The emergency room physician started treating the woman for sepsis. Despite such treatment, the woman’s condition deteriorated and she was transferred to the intensive care unit, where her condition did not improve. The woman showed signs of respiratory and renal failure and was placed on full life support. While on life support, the woman went into cardiac arrest multiple times. The physicians were unable to resuscitate her when she went into cardiac arrest for the fourth time, and she died on the evening of July 25, 2010.
An autopsy found gram-negative rod bacteria deep in the fat tissue in the woman’s right buttock, near the injection site for the fat transfer. No other signs of infection or bacteria were noted. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of the woman’s death was sepsis with probable toxic shock syndrome from the unknown gram-negative bacteria in her right buttock.
On March 16, 2012, the plaintiff filed his Idaho wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendants, alleging that reusable medical equipment used in his wife’s cosmetic surgery procedure was not properly disinfected and sterilized, which allowed bacteria to be introduced his wife’s right buttock during the fat transfer procedure, which caused the infection that ultimately led to her death.
The Idaho wrongful death case was tried before a jury from September 16, 2014 through October 2, 2014 (this was the second trial: the first trial ended in a mistrial when the defendants’ medical expert provided testimony in violation of the court’s order). The jury returned a special verdict, concluding that the defendant medical spa breached the standard of care for disinfecting and sterilizing medical equipment and that such breach was the proximate case of the woman’s death. The Idaho medical malpractice jury determined that the defendants had acted recklessly and awarded the husband $2,540,436 in economic damages and $1,250,000 in non-economic damages (the Idaho cap on awards of non-economic damages in the amount of $250,000 does not apply to causes of action arising out of willful or reckless misconduct. I.C. § 6-1603(4)(a)). The defendants appealed, raising 21 issues to be decided by the Idaho Supreme Court.
The Idaho Supreme Court addressed each of the defendants’ issues on appeal in its 59-page opinion. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in favor of the plaintiff, finding in his favor with regard to twenty of the twenty-one issues raised in the appeal, except for the district court’s award of attorney fees, which the Idaho Supreme Court vacated and remanded for the district court to further consider the issue. The Idaho Supreme Court awarded the plaintiff his costs, as well as part of his attorney fees, for the appeal.
Source Ballard v. Kerr, 2016 Opinion No. 86.
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