Jury finds double-booked surgery did not cause patient’s quadraplegia

As reported in the Boston Globe this morning, a jury in Suffolk County Superior Court found that a spine surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital failed to inform his patient that he planned to juggle two surgeries at the same time, but concluded that the doctor’s divided attention did not cause his patient’s quadriplegia.

As a result, the jury awarded the 45 year old father of two, Tony Meng, no financial damages.

At trial, the plaintiff testified that his surgeon, Dr. Kirkham Wood never informed him that he planned to perform his surgery while also performing a second spine surgery, which would require the defendant to move between the two surgeries. Had the defendant informed Meng of his plan, Meng testified that he would never have consented to the surgery.

During the procedure, the plaintiff’s spinal cord somehow bent at an acute angle during the 11 hour surgery and protruded through the dura (the tough membrane that surrounds the spinal cord) resulting in paralysis.

One of the questions that the jury had to answer was whether the lack of “informed consent” given to the patient was a causal factor in bringing about the harm. On this question, the jury answered, no, and

While it is difficult to get inside the heads of the members of the jury, it appears that even though the jury found that the doctor did not properly inform his patient of the fact that he planned to juggle two complex spine surgeries at the same time, the doctor’s actions did not cause the patient’s tragic outcome.

According to the Globe “Meng’s disastrous operation figured prominently in a Globe Spotlight Team investigation of simultaneous surgeries at MGH and other teaching hospitals. Many hospitals have since restricted the practice, also known as “concurrent surgery,” and a US Senate committee recently sought to curb it.

Two other former patients of Wood’s have sued him for medical malpractice alleging that double-booking contributed to their complications. One of the patients is former Red Sox relief pitcher Bobby Jenks, who blames Wood for what he alleges was a botched back operation in 2011 that ended his career.

Judge Edward Leibensperger declined to let the jury hear that concurrent surgery was the focus of an extraordinary, long-running fight in MGH’s orthopedics department even before Meng’s surgery. Shortly after Meng’s operation, a knee-and-hip surgeon in the department implored leaders of MGH in an email to “shut this practice down.’’

“What will you tell this quadriplegic man and his family when they ask if his paralysis could have been prevented by having his surgeon be attentive only to him during his surgery?’’ the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Dennis Burke, wrote.”

It is difficult for this writer to imagine how members of the jury came to a conclusion that a doctor who chose to divide his attention between two complex and lengthy spinal surgeries – while one of his patient’s was somehow allowed to be placed in a compromising position thus causing injury to his spine – was not legally responsible for this tragic outcome.

I suspect that if this tragedy occurred to one of the members of the jury, or to a member of their own family, they would reach an opposite conclusion.



injury, medical malpractice, Personal Injury, Uncategorized

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