By Dan Clifford, publisher
© 2008 The Medical-Legal News
The widow of the brother of Kentucky’s former governor was awarded $5 million in August after a botched elective surgery in 2003.
Hans Poppe, a Louisville plaintiff attorney and the lead attorney for the widow, said Norman Gene Carroll, brother of former governor Julian Carroll, had undergone elective surgery to insert a deep brain stimulating device to help alleviate his Parkinson’s symptoms.
While on the operating table, and with his head ratcheted securely into a positioning frame, Carroll began having trouble breathing. He had developed a venous air embolism. He told his doctors, but his procedure was not terminated and his condition deteriorated. Carroll then, while conscious, went into cardiac arrest and suffered for 45 minutes before lapsing into a coma. Carroll lived for six days until his wife took him off life support.
Poppe said, “Treatment (for venous air embolism) is very simple — lower the head below the heart. The patient was complaining of shortness of breath, chest pain and difficulty breathing. The procedure wasn’t terminated and over the course of 45 minutes the situation went from bad to worse.”
“Complicating the issue was the fact that the patient was in a head frame that restricted access to the mouth and prevented anesthesia from quickly intubating. They couldn’t get the frame off quickly enough and there was testimony the surgeon may have been turning the screws the wrong way.”
“When they finally got the patient intubated they couldn’t confirm the tube was properly placed because there was no carbon dioxide reading on the monitor. The surgeon performed a tracheotomy and cut the anterior jugular vein. Only then did they realize no one had turned on the carbon dioxide monitor.”
The jury awarded Carroll’s widow $3.5 million for 45 minutes of Carroll’s conscious pain and suffering and $1.5 million for the six days of loss of consortium while her husband was in a coma. Kentucky does not permit awards of loss of consortium after death occurs.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Shannon Ragland, publisher of the Kentucky Trial Court Review, said the pain and suffering award was very high considering the short amount of time Carroll suffered — “though it was a horrible way to go.”
Ragland also told the Courier-Journal that the $1.5 million consortium award (for six days of life) was the largest for a widow in Kentucky since the Review began tracking such data in 1997.