Kim Hamburg, age 56, brought a claim of medical malpractice in a Kenosha County court against two neurosurgeons that performed a surgical procedure on his back at Froedtert Hospital. The plaintiff has since been confined to a wheelchair and has added an allegation of fraud, accusing Dennis Maiman and Hesham Soliman of lying to conceal the surgical mistake.
If Hamburg prevails in the fraud claim he may be able to receive punitive damages that would exceed Wisconsin's law that limits recovery of non-economic damages to $750,000. His attorney explained that these additional funds would be used for Hamburg's “future medical needs in the millions of dollars”.
Hamburg visited Dr. Maiman complaining of back pain and underwent an MRI that revealed the presence of an intradural lesion. Maiman recommended surgery to remove the mass from the mid-to-low region of the back. The claim alleges that Maiman misinterpreted the actual location of the lesion and removed tissue from adjacent spinal vertebrae. An intradural lesion is a mass that grows between the bones of the spine. These tumors may be cancerous and/or may hinder the function of the spine such as when they cause compression.
The fraud claim makes the following allegations.
- Maiman concealed that he had operated on the wrong part of the back and actually worsened his condition.
- That Maiman told him a follow-up procedure was necessary for a remaining mass that appeared cancerous.
- Hamburg immediately went to another physician who believed that what was surgically removed was actually healthy spinal cord tissue.
Roughly three years ago, Dr. Maiman and Froedtert Hospital faced allegations in a “whistleblower” lawsuit. The claim stated that falsified claims had been submitted to Medicare. Plaintiffs said that surgeries were being scheduled at the same time and one was being performed by an unlicensed teaching physician. The case ended in a settlement valued at approximately $840,000. The defense stated that the agreement was not an admission of guilt, but rather it was deemed as being in their “best interests” to settle the matter.
Punitive Damages in Maryland
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for wrongful behavior and as a deterrent. Punitive damages are applicable in very few cases in Maryland and are often reserved for those situations where the defendant's actions were malicious in nature. The state's General Assembly has recently been reexamining the use of punitive damages in some areas such as drunk driving. This worked is being conducted by The House Workgroup on Punitive Damages that was formed to evaluate potential changes.
Non-Economic Damages in Maryland
Economic damages are generally easy to quantify, such as those for medical expenses, wages lost, and property damage. Non-economic damages such as those for pain, suffering, and loss of consortium are not as simple to calculate. Considerations may include the permanence of the injuries incurred or the day-to-day functional limitations associated with the injury. The state limits the amount recoverable for non-economic damages to $830,000, with annual increases as needed to account for rising inflation.