US patient insulted during surgery receives US$500,000

Date: Jun 26, 2015

A patient who was insulted by his doctors while under anaesthetic during surgery has been awarded US$500,000 (AU$646,000) in damages.

The man, known only as ‘DB’ in court documents, was anaesthetised when he underwent a colonoscopy. Nevertheless, he left his smartphone recording so that he could capture instructions medical practitioners were due to give him after the operation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, when the Virginia resident listened back to the recording in the car on the way home, he realised his doctors had mocked him after he was put to sleep.

Anaesthesiologist Tiffany Ingham also told an assistant to lie to the man when he woke up, before putting a false diagnosis on his chart. She also discussed avoiding the patient once his operation was complete.

Furthermore, Dr Ingham implied to fellow doctors that a rash on the patient’s genitals was a sexually transmitted disease and described him as a “big wimp” because of his aversion to having blood drawn.

“After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op … I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit,” Dr Ingham was recorded as stating.

Medical negligence claim

A Fairfax County jury awarded the man $100,000 for defamation and $200,000 for medical malpractice. He received an additional $200,000 in punitive damages.

Misdiagnosis is a common reason for medical negligence claims, although it is unusual for a doctor to do so intentionally, such as in this case. Dr Ingham said the man had haemorrhoids on his chart “even though we don’t see them and probably won’t”.

Kathryn McGoldrick, former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology, described the medical practitioners’ conversations in the operating room as “frankly stupid”.

“We can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn’t have recall,” she explained.

Pursuing medical negligence claims in NSW

While this particular case occurred in the US, Australian patients can pursue a medical negligence claim if they feel practitioners have breached their duty of care.

For example, a doctor could be deemed negligent if they are too slow to diagnose an illness or prescribe the wrong medication. Failing to adequately inform an individual of the risks involved with surgery may also warrant a claim.

Successful plaintiffs may be entitled to compensation for economic losses, including their wages and superannuation. Money to cover medical bills, care costs and pain and suffering is also possible.

To discuss medical negligence claims in NSW, please speak to an experienced compensation law firm such as Gerard Malouf & Partners.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.