When a patient goes to their doctor for a complaint of back pain, they expect a full assessment. They expect the doctor to use their medical training and experience to evaluate the symptoms and determine the cause of the pain. However, what the patient does not expect is to leave the doctor's office with some pain medication only to discover that they have a dangerous condition that should be treated with emergency intervention. An Indiana couple was awarded more than $4 million after a doctor failed to diagnose a paralyzing back injury.
Robert Lehman went to a local medical clinic in 2005 after he suffered an on-the-job injury. Lehman told doctors at the Dunlap Urgent Care Center that he had back pain after the injury. After an examination, the doctors administered a shot, gave Lehman a prescription, and sent him home. He was cleared to return to work. However, Lehman's condition only got worse.
Days later, Lehman could barely walk. He returned to the clinic and was examined by Dr. Jay Schlabach. Dr. Schlabach gave Lehman more pain medication and sent him back to work. Finally, Lehman went to the hospital emergency room after his condition continued to worsen. ER doctors diagnosed Lehman with cauda equina syndrome.
Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a serious neurological disease involving damage to the cauda equina, a mass of nerves that branch off of the lower end of the spinal cord. Signs of the injury include severe back pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and numbness in the groin area. The condition requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent damage.
Although the hospital was quickly able to diagnose Lehman with CES, the damage was already done. He is now unable to walk, paralyzed in his legs. The case went to court in a bench trial before Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker. The judge ruled in favor of Mr. Lehman and his wife, and against Dr. Schlabach and Dunlap Urgent Care. The judge awarded the injured couple more than $4 million in damages.
Judge Shewmaker also awarded $425,000 to Marla Lehman, Robert's wife. “Marla Lehman has suffered her own damages for the loss of her companionship and consortium of her husband," wrote Shewmaker. "In addition, she has provided care support and nurturing to him required as a spouse."
However, the amount of the award may not hold up to legal challenges. Indiana limits medical malpractice awards to $1.25 million. Judge Shewmaker's award is $3 million higher than the state limits. According to Shewmaker, the award was justified because Lehman's injuries were catastrophic. He can no longer walk and still suffers pain from the nerve damage. Additionally, the defendants may further challenge the verdict through an appeal, or seeking to reduce the award.
If you were injured due to a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of your medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.