Donohue Brown’s Kent Mathewson and Laura DeDecker successfully defended a vitreous and retinal specialist and his clinic in a high-stakes six-week trial involving a patient who went blind in one eye due to an infection following surgery.
The plaintiff was in his late 50s when he developed vision issues as a result of macular pucker or wrinkling of the retina in both eyes. The defendant ophthalmologist performed a surgical procedure involving a vitrectomy and retina repair on one of his eyes on the afternoon of Friday, January 21, 2011, and by all accounts the surgery was a success.
As part of standard procedure, the plaintiff had a follow-up visit at the doctor’s eye clinic the next morning to check for infection. Even at this early stage the plaintiff had improved vision, and the eye appeared healthy with no signs of infection. The doctor gave the plaintiff his home telephone number with instructions to call should anything change.
After returning home, the plaintiff lifted the eye patch to examine his eye a number of times that afternoon and evening, and around midnight developed a sudden and severe pain in his eye. He called the doctor who then met him at the eye clinic in the middle of the night to examine the eye. The doctor confirmed there was a serious problem and went with the plaintiff to the emergency room. Once there, the doctor determined the plaintiff had endophthalmitis, a serious intraocular infection. It was later determined that the offending bacterium was clostridium perfringens, a rare, fast-growing bacterium, and he treated the eye with antibiotics.
Within two days the infection was gone, but the damage had been done. The bacteria had produced toxins that permanently destroyed the retina, resulting in permanent blindness and some disfigurement.
During six hours of closing arguments by all parties, the plaintiff asked for $25 million in damages, alleging the infection was seeded by the ophthalmologist or his staff as a result of not following proper sterilization techniques, or by the hospital’s failure to properly sterilize surgical instruments or equipment.
Donohue Brown argued that the only non-sterile element during surgery or follow-up visits was the patient himself, intraoperative infections are a recognized complication of intraocular surgeries, and that the plaintiff may have infected the eye when he lifted up the patch three times on Saturday afternoon following his post-op visit.
After deliberating for just under three hours, the jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants.