St. Louis Hospital Admits Brain-Surgery Mistake


Posted on 30th April 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , ,

I haven’t seen this very often in my career as a traumatic brain injury lawyer: A hospital making a lengthy apology after being sued for medical malpractice.

The hospital chain involved as SSM Health Care-St. Louis, which last Friday was sued for allegedly operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain. Actually, I can take out the “allegedly,” since the hospital quickly owned-up to the error.

Here’s what happened. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote story Tuesday saying that a suit had been filed against SSM Health Care on behalf of Regina Turner, 53. She had been slated to have a left-sided craniotomy bypass on April 4 at SSM St. Clare Health Center (part of SSM Health Care) in Fenton, Mo. Instead, the surgery was done on the right side of her brain, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The malpractice lawsuit, which also named neurosurgeon “A.L.” as a defendant, claims that doctors performed a second surgery, on the correct side of Turner’s brain, six days after the mishap in the operating room, according to the St. Louis newspaper.

Now Turner can’t speak intelligibly, needs constant care, and is suffering from anxiety and depression, the suit says.

Perhaps to deflect some of the bad publicity about the malpractice suit, after the Post-Dispatch story appeared SSM Health Care admitted that its neurosurgeon and medical team had operated on the wrong side of Turner’s brain.

According to the newspaper, SSM Health Care President and CEO Chris Howard issued a long statement about Turner’s case. First of all, Howard apologized for “the wrong-site surgery in our operating room.”

“This was a breakdown in our procedures, and it absolutely should not have happened,” Howard said. “We have since taken steps to be even more vigilant to prevent such an error from happening again. Medicine is a human endeavor, and sadly, people and systems are not perfect. When an error occurs, it is tragic for the patient, their loved ones and the medical team.”

It will be interesting to see what kind of a settlement comes out of this mess.

N.J. Court Erred With Expert Limit In Malpractice Case


Posted on 29th March 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , , ,

A New Jersey appellate panel ruled Thursday that a trial judge shouldn’t have limited the number of experts permitted to testify in a medical malpractice case involving a youth who sustained brain damage and died after being stabbed, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. The suit will now go back for a new trial.

The appellate court said that a Hudson County judge made an error when he found that the defendant and plaintiff could only bring in one expert each on any subject relevant to the case, The Ledger reported. The panel said that the judge had ended up barring important evidence merely because it was the same as other testimony.

The malpractice case involved Kevin McClean, an 18-year-old Jersey City youth who died in October 2007 from complications stemming from when he was stabbed in September 2005. After the attack, McLean got a staff infection, sustained brain damage and became paralyzed from the waist down, according to The Ledger.

Kevin’s mother, Lisa McClean, then sued Greenville Hospital in Jersey City for malpractice, alleging that physicians should have diagnosed her son’s infection earlier. The jury didn’t find in favor of the mother, The Ledger reported.

During the trial, hospital lawyers argued McLean didn’t have any symptoms the indicated he had an infection.  The plaintiff’s attorney contended that he should have been allowed to call a second emergency medicine expert who would have said McLean should have been given a blood test, according to The Ledger.

The appellate panel ruled that a trial judge doesn’t have the “authority to balance the number of witnesses,” the newspaper reported.


Florida Jury Clears Nurse In Brain Injury Malpractice Case


Posted on 19th December 2012 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, ,

It looks like no one is going to be held legally responsible in this sad scenario.

A Florida jury Monday cleared a nurse of any liability in a lawsuit stemming from a case where a child sustained permanent brain injury after coming to an emergency room with flu-like symptoms, according to

The $65 million medical malpractice suit was filed in 2009 by the parents of Milan Carvelli, 9, of Vero Beach. Following a three-week trial, the jury found that emergency room nurse Vicki Marchand of Indian River Medical Center “didn’t contribute to the child’s medical problems,” TCPalm reported.

The hospital had already reached a settlement of the suit for what was described as a “small, undisclosed amount of money.”

The suit alleged that the girl was brought to the emergency room on Feb, 4, 2008, vomiting and unnaturally thirsty. She was diagnosed with pediatric diabetic ketoacidosis, according to The child’s doctor directed that the child be transferred to a hospital that was equipped to deal with that ailment, but  inclement weather delayed the child’s transfer to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orland, reported.

The malpractice suit had alleged that Marchand didn’t realize until it was too late that fluid was building up on the child’s brain, according to The girl had to be resuscitated, and had sustained brain injury.  Now she has developmental issues, partial paralysis in her right arm and hand, and has a limp.

The family’s lawyers had sought $65 million in damages, saying that $40 million would cover the girl’s continued medical care, reported.

The jury thought differently.


Florida Man Suffered TBI, Was Paralyzed In Crash: When Will He Get His $10.75 Million Award?


Posted on 20th February 2012 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , ,

Florida’s law regarding caps on jury awards is disgracefully flawed.

Just consider the case of a Sunrise, Fla., man who sustained severe brain injury, and was paralyzed, in a crash 14 years ago.  His family has been trying to get his judgment of $10.75 million approved for four years now, according to The Ledger of Florida.

You see, under the law in the Sunshine State lawmakers have to sign off on judgments against the government that are more than $200,000. And Eric Brody’s case involved a public official: a Broward County sheriff’s deputy, according to The Ledger.

Brody, 32, was paralyzed and must now use a wheelchair — and suffered traumatic brain injury — when he was struck by the officer’s car in 1998.  

Last week a subcommittee of the Florida House passed 16 “claims bills,” meaning they reviewed the cases of plaintiffs who were killed or hurt in incidents involving police officers, bus drivers and other public employees, The Ledger reported. And Brody’s case was one of those approved.

In the case of Brody’s family, they have been coming to Florida legislators for the last four years, without having their claims bill aproved. But now the family has at least two lawmakers on their side: Rep. Marty Kiar and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Kiar was apparently part of the subcommittee that voted in favor of Brody getting his $10.76 million award, and Haridopolos told The Ledger that getting the Brody family its money was one of his priorities this year.

But there’s still several catches before Brody can get his $10 million award.

“A discrepancy between the House and Senate over caps on fees for lawyers and lobbyists will have to be ironed out,” The Ledger wrote of one of them.

Why should a plaintiff such as Brody have to go through hoops to get the award a jury believes he deserves?

It’s absurd that Brody and his family have to wait for their money.



Family Awarded $1 Million From Medical Examiner’s Office That Kept Their Son’s Brain


Posted on 27th November 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , ,

Justice sometimes does triumph.

A Staten Island, N.Y., couple has won a $1 million judgment against the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, which retained their dead son’s brain without their permission or knowledge, the New York Post reported Saturday.

In a macabre twist in an already freaky case, the parents of Jesse Shipley, 17, didn’t discover that they didn’t have his brain until some of his high school friends saw it in a marked jar during a field trip to Staten Island’s morgue.

Jesse was killed in a car crash in January 2005, and was autopsied by the local medical examiner. But the Medical Examiner’s Office returned Jesse’s body to his parents for burial without his brain, without mentioning that little tidbit to the Shipley family. Doctors wanted to perform tests on the organ, according to the Post.

Jesse’s family only learned that their son’s body was missing its brain when they buried it because of the shocking incident during the field trip. That when Jesse’s schoolmates chanced upon his brain in the jar, the Post reported.

Needless to say, the teens told Shipley’s surprised family what they had seen. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, “a Catholic priest told the family that Jesse’s burial wasn’t proper without his brain,” according to the Post.

The family didn’t get the brain back until October 2005, and they subsequently filed suit against the Medical Examiner’s Office. The city was liable, according to a Staten Island Supreme Court judge, under the so-called right of sepulcher, which says that a family is entitled to all the remains of a relative, according to the Post.

The defense didn’t have a leg to stand on. The city apparently contended that Jesse’s father Andre Shipley “would have known his son’s brain were being kept for further testing if he’d known to ask,” the Post reported.


It probably didn’t help the defense’s case, either, when a medical examiner said he keep Jesse’s brain hanging around in a jar because he waits until he has a half dozen brains before calling in a neuropathic examiner to study them, the Post said.

We hope in those other cases that the families knew their loved one’s brains had been withheld from them, unlike the Shipleys.

The Shipleys did lose one legal acton last year, when the family sued claiming that their son’s brain had been displayed unlawfully. An appellate court threw that claim out, the Post reported.     


What We Missed Out On In The Missing Brain Case In New York City


Posted on 18th October 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , ,

About two weeks ago I wrote about a horrendous case in New York City, where the local coroner had taken the brain of a 17-year-old youth killed in a car accident, Jesse Shipley, without notifying or getting permission from his family. In a horrifying twist of fate two months later, kids from the youth’s school went on a field trip to the morgue and saw the dead boy’s brain there, sitting in a jar with his name on it.

The case made the front page of the Big Apple’s two tabloids, the New York Post and Daily News. In reflecting on the matter, it really entailed several tragedies: The family’s pain over the discovery of Jesse’s vital organ, which they hand’r  even known was missing; the horror of the school mates that saw it; and the fact that there was no autopsy done on that brain.

After Jesse was killed in a car accident on Jan. 9, 2005, and his family agreed to an autopsy of the body the next day. The youth’s remains were picked up and a funeral was held three days later. What the Shipley family didn’t know was that Jesse’s brain was not with his body. 

The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office had kept Jesse’s brain to do tests on it, and that those tests were done a day or so after the field trip. Jesse’s family got a temporary restraining order to stop any additional tests on his brain, which was returned to them. 

It’s unclear what kind of tests the ME’s office did in fact do on the youth’s brain, or whether the coroner can keep those results, as his office is now being sued by Shipley’s family. The Shipley family filed a claim against New York City and the medical examiner’s office in March 2006, asking for damages for the improper handling of their son’s remains. 

I’ve been a vocal advocate of the need to have autopsie done more often on brains so that we learn more about the less traumative types of head injury, namely mild traumatic brain injury. 

With no sure-fire tests in existance now to detect the more subtle kinds of brain injury, we need all the clinical research done that we can. And the best research is examining an actual brain. Having an accurate gauge on brain injury is particularly important in terms of the future treatment of the thousands of U.S. troops who have suffered concussions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   

 We could have had that research opportunity with young Jesse’s brain, if the New York coroner hadn’t violated the rules by spiriting away the brain of a family’s loved one without its permission.

Family Can Sue Medical Examiner Over Son’s Missing Brain


Posted on 1st October 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, ,

It is a macabre case that shows that truth is often stranger than fiction.

The case involves the brain of Jesse Shipley, 17, a Port Richmond High School student in New York. Shipley was killed in a car accident on Jan. 9, 2005, and his family agreed to an autopsy of the body the next day. The youth’s remains were picked up and a funeral was held three days later.

But two months later, according to The New York Law Journal, fellow students of Shipley’s sister Shannon, who was also hurt in the accident, went on a field trip to the Richmond County Mortuary on Staten Island. And some of the students spotted a human brain in a jar filled with formaldehyde. The jar was marked with the name Jesse Shipley.

New York Appellate Justice William Mastro called the incident “a surreal coincidence,” according to The Law Journal.

Shannon Shipley’s classmates told her about the brain, and she told her parents. They learned that the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office had kept Jesse’s brain to do tests on it, and that those tests were done a day or so after the field trip.

Shipley’s family got a temporary restraining order to stop any additional tests on his brain, which was returned to them. The family held a second funeral for their son, according to The Law Journal. 

The Shipley family sued New York City and the medical examiner’s office in March 2006, asking for damages for the improper handling of their son’s remains. 

Brooklyn’s New York Appellate Division, 2nd Department, recently ruled that the Shipley family has the right to sue the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office for violating their right of sepulcher, for removing and keeping Jesse’s brain without telling the family.

Epilepsy Drug Connected To Major Birth Defects In Babies


Posted on 16th June 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , , ,

The epilepsy drug valproic acid, when taken by expectant mothers in their first trimester, has been linked to birth defects in the brain, heart and arms of newborns, according to a new study.

For example, babies whose moms took valproic acid , whose brand names include Depakene and Depakote, were almost seven  times more likely to suffer with craniosyostosis, which is a fusion of the skull when the fetus is still in the womb. That fusion put hinders skull and brain development.

In terms of other birth  defects, mothers who took valproic acid during the first three months of their pregnancy incresed their odds, by 12.7  times, of  having a baby with spina bifida, which is when the spinal cord and backbone don’t develop properly, compared to women who didn’t take the drug.

Newborns whose mothers took valproic acid were also five times more likely to have a cleft palate;  2.5 times more likely to have the athrial septal heart defect; and more than two times as likely to have an extra finger on their hand. 

Those statistics have to be put in context. Even though there is a higher risk of birth defects for children of  mothers who took the anti-seizure medication, that risk overall is not huge. In the case of spina bifida, the risk went from 0.6 percent, or six in 1,000, compared with 0.5, or five in 1,000, for children whose mother’s hadn’t taken the anti-sezure medication.

Scientists are advising women of childbearing age to find a substitute drug to ward off seizures.

The study was published in The New England  Journal of  Medicine.


Former Arena Football Player Sues Team Doctor for Malpractice Over Concussions


Posted on 19th March 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , ,

A case in Denver may be the first lawsuit where a professional football player is charging a team doctor with malpractice, for the way the physician treated his concussions, since the issue of head injuries came to national prominence three years ago, according to The New York Times.

The legal action was filed Wednesday by a former Arena Football League player, Clay Rush, against Dr. Saurabh Mangalik, team doctor for the now-defunct Colorado Crush, as well as the physician’s employer, HealthONE Clinical Services. The doctor and HealthONE were independent contractors for the team.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in a Colorado state court in Denver, Rush alleges that in 2008 he suffered several hits to his head during several games. The litigation alleges that Mangalik botchedhis treatment of Rush, which had led to permanent brain injury for the player.

The suit charges that Mangalik just treated Rush for a headache, failing to evaluate and observe him before letting him go back to play.

In a phone interview with The Times, Mangalik denied any wrongdoing and said he didn’t know there had been any problems with Rush’s care until he was contacted by the newspaper.

The doctor also asserted that he had warned Rush and Crush trainers that the injured player should not resume practice or return to play until his brain injury symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness, disappeared.

The Colorado Crush team don’t exist anymore.

There have been lawsuits similar to the one filed by Rush. La Salle University last November paid $7.5 million to settle a suit brought by a player who sustained a bad concussion and claimed that the school’s medical staff didn’t give him adequate treatment.

Ten years ago, former National Football League running back Merril Hoge sued Dr. John Munsell, the former Chicago Bears team doctor. The case was later settled, with the terms remaining confidential, according to The Times.

Woman’s Family Sues When She Sustains Brain Injury And Dies After Having Teeth Pulled


Posted on 11th February 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , ,

One of the greatest challenges in a career representing injured people is that it is almost always those with the greatest vulnerabilities, that have the worst results. This story about a woman who had a routine dental procedure which left her with a brain injury, which ultimately killed her, is a perfect example. Clearly this woman’s cerebral palsy made her more vulnerable to something bad happening. The medical and dental professionals involved in this case will likely argue that it was her cerebral palsy which was the problem. But for her cerebral palsy, she wouldn’t have needed the procedure at all. No defense lawyer should ever be allowed to persuade that a vulnerable person is less entitled to justice.

The survivors of a Bronx woman who suffered brain damage, and ultimately died, after having her teeth extracted have filed a wrongful death suit in the case, according to United Press International.

The lawsuit was filed by the family of Felita Dowdy, 33, against dentist Dr. Bruce Lish and St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. The case is in the Bronx Supreme Court.

Dowdy had cerebral palsy, and her teeth had rotted. She went to St. Luke’s last July 21 to have her teeth pulled.

But shortly after the extraction, the suit claims, Dowdy went into respiratory arrest and sustained brain damage as a result. She died Oct. 14. The lawsuit also alleges that the pain killers fentanyl contributed to Dowdy’s demise.

According to the story, St. Luke’s offered condolences to the Dowdy family but declined further comment. Lish’s father, dentist Dr. Jerome Lish, in the article said that his son has many disabled patients and wasn’t responsible for Dowdy’s death.