The plaintiff was a 33-year-old woman who underwent a diskectomy and one-level fusion in the lower back at L4-L5 in September 2004. In 1999, another surgeon performed two microdiskectomies on the plaintiff, each at L4-L5.
During the September 2004 procedure, the defendant-neurosurgeon encountered a large amount of scar tissue from the two prior microdiskectomies but was able to complete the procedure and insert four pedicle screws as part of the instrumentation process to stabilize the spine and allow for a fusion of the L4 and L5 vertebrae. Positoperatively, the plaintiff began to exhibit signs of a right foot drop, and a CT scan taken five days postoperatively showed that the right L4 pedicle screw had breached the medial wall of the pedicle and extended into the spinal canal.
The following day, the neurosurgeon removed the two pedicle screws on the right, but the plaintiff thereafter continued to complain of right foot drop, lower back pain and intermittent right-sided sciatica.
At trial, the plaintiff claimed that the positioning of the right L4 pedicle screw caused her foot drop and other symptoms.
The defendant, on the other hand, maintained that the nerve root that controls the ability to raise the foot is the L5 nerve root and that there was no evidence that the screw ever made contact with the right L5 nerve root. The defense emphasized that it is the right L4 nerve root that abuts the right L4 pedicle and that, while the screw clearly irritated the right L4 nerve root for six days, the symptoms in the L4 distribution resolved immediately after the screw was removed.
The cause of the foot drop, the defense argued, was the unavoidable need for the neurosurgeon to manipulate the right L5 nerve root to remove the herniated disk and insert the interbody spacer during the surgical procedure.
After plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award the plaintiff $5.4 million, the jury deliberated for two hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant.