A jury in Virginia awarded the surviving family of Vincent Minor $3.4 million after he died from problems that occurred during surgery. Dr. Joyce Hairston was the lone remaining defendant. Minor had gastric bypass surgery years earlier that involved securing a surgical band to reduce the size of the stomach. Minor now entered the emergency room at Inova Fairfax Hospital with significant stomach pains. The doctors determined that the banding around his stomach has become dislodged and surgery was ordered.
While Dr. Hairston administered anesthesia to Minor, the patient suddenly choked up some matter from his stomach. The gastric content entered his throat and lungs. The surgeons attempted to revive Minor; however, they were unsuccessful. The family soon filed a claim of medical malpractice in a Fairfax County court.
The case was heard by a jury for over two-weeks with Judge Michael Devine presiding. The plaintiff attorneys insisted that the medical providers were negligent for not fully emptying the stomach prior to the surgery. They also asserted that the surgical process should have immediately been halted when Minor first vomited. Both sides called several expert witnesses.
Following approximately 10 hours of deliberation, the jury found Hairston had demonstrated negligence. They awarded slightly over $3.4 million in damages as well as some additional medical and burial costs. Following the case, a plaintiff attorney explained that the defense had acted as if the case was “no big deal” and said that the jury felt otherwise. A plaintiff attorney said that no attempts were made to reach a settlement. A friend of Minor stated that he was a “wonderful young man” who was active in the local church.
Gastric Banding Surgery
The surgical procedure that Minor has initially undergone for weight loss involved placing a band of silicone around a portion of the stomach. This insertion is made using a laparoscopy procedure that involves a small incision to the abdominal area. The stomach's capacity for food is reduced to approximately one ounce. The band is able to be tightened by filling a tube with sterile salt water that connects to the internal banding. The surgery generally leads to a weight reduction of roughly 40%.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Virginia recognizes the pure contributory negligence doctrine in cases of medical malpractice. Only a couple other U.S. states use this rule for cases of negligence. If the plaintiff is found to have contributed any degree of negligence to the incident that caused the injury, they are barred from pursuing any damages. This applies even if the amount of negligence allocated to the plaintiff is merely 1%. Other states that employ pure contributory negligence include Maryland, Washington D.C., and North Carolina.
Limitation Caps on Damage Awards
Virginia applies a maximum limit on the amount of damages that a plaintiff may receive. Currently, this limit is $2.25 million and will continue to increase to $3 million in the upcoming years. The state allows for punitive damages to be awarded. These are damages intended to punish the defendant for acts that are determined to have been done intentionally or with maliciousness. Punitive damages may not exceed $350,000 at the current time.