Missouri Doctor Operates on Wrong Side of Patient’s Brain

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report of a recent lawsuit accusing a St. Louis, MO surgeon of operating on the wrong side of a patient’s skull and brain. The woman, Regina Turner, is no longer able to speak intelligibly, and now requires 24-hour care for her basic needs.

The doctor, along with the president and CEO of SSM Health Care-St. Louis, issued a public apology to the patient. Their apology stated that the error was the result of a breakdown in procedure, and that it absolutely should never have happened.

After suffering from a series of strokes, Turner was admitted to St. Clare Health Center in Fenton, Missouri for a left-sided craniotomy bypass. Instead, the neurosurgeon operated on her right side. The goal of her craniotomy was to prevent future strokes.

Before her surgery, Turner was mobile, cognizant, and fully able to take care of herself. Her lawsuit alleges that the hospital’s employees set up the operating room incorrectly and merely stood by while the neurosurgeon operated on the wrong side of her skull, watching, when they could have prevented the error. Healthcare facilities have mistake-proofing protocols and checklists which include the surgeon’s marking of the operative site, members of the operating team verifying that site with the medical records, and a “timeout” phase in which surgeons explain the details of the operation, allowing all team members to ask questions or raise concerns.

Clearly, in this case, the quality control and safety protocols were significantly lacking. None of the defendants named in the case participated in a timeout, which could have spared Turner part of the right side of her brain. Alarmingly, in 2010, the Journal of Neurosurgery identified 35 cases of wrong-side craniotomies in the years after 1966. The Journal also noted that there were additional, undocumented cases that were never reported to state medical boards, courts, or news organizations.

Meanwhile, on the same day the hospital issued their public apology, the Missouri Senate was considering a bill that would reinstate damage caps on medical malpractice claims, such as that filed by Turner. Eight hours into the debate, Senator Dan Brown set the bill aside, apologized to the doctors he claims he was trying to help, and surrendered the effort.

The bill was in response to a 2005 Missouri Supreme Court decision which found that malpractice caps on jury awards were unconstitutional. Republican lawmakers in the state attempted to set the maximum amount for noneconomic damages at $350,000. Noneconomic damages are usually defined as damages not associated with lost wages and medical bills, and they generally include restitution for loss mobility, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium – all things Turner is now suffering from, and will continue to for the rest of her life.

So, had that law not been overturned, Turner would only be allowed to receive $350,000 for the devastating harm done to her through a hospital’s negligence. Indeed, this violates her right to a trial by jury, which, we will soon see, will award her far greater compensation for the irreversible harm done to her.

The reason Missouri Republicans are so intent on passing these laws is not to protect hospitals or individual doctors from liability, but to fix the market for insurance companies. These laws would not only increase profits for insurance companies, but would do much harm to patients seriously injured by negligent doctors and hospitals. With their health and livelihood taken from them, the only sense of justice and restitution these injured patients are able to obtain is through the court system. Bills limiting damages for these patients takes this justice away from them.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this story to spread awareness of the very real harm done to patients by medical negligence, and the similarly harmful effects of malpractice caps legislation. If you or a loved one was seriously injured at the hands of a negligent surgeon, physician, dentist, or nurse, you may be entitled to significant compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.