George Washington Hospital is a defendant in a medical malpractice claim recently filed in D.C. Superior Court stemming from a woman's death shortly after having spinal fusion surgery. Dr. Warren Yu, the hospital's director of spinal surgery, allegedly could have prevented the death of Lillie Anne Drayton both before and after the surgical procedure. Sedrick Drayton, the son of the deceased, asserts in the claim that Yu should not have proceeded with the surgery based on her having too many existing conditions and health risks. In addition, Yu is accused of failing to monitor Ms. Drayton's condition as it rapidly deteriorated after the operation. The plaintiffs are seeking $15 million in damages.
Significant Past & Existing Medical Conditions
Ms. Drayton's lengthy list of prior health conditions included chronic back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis in a knee, sciatic nerve damage and anemia. She underwent testing before the procedure which revealed a tremendous rise in her count of white blood cells, commonly a sign that an infection exists. The claim also states that Yu should have determined her inappropriateness for surgery based on her high-blood pressure (hypertension), morbid obesity, diabetes and blood clots.
The defendants are accused of failing to conduct an MRI or other testing despite her “ever-worsening condition”, which included pain, fever, and poor neurological function. If a scan were conducted, the plaintiffs believe it would have shown the development of a spinal epidural abscess. This type of abscess is formed by pus and increasingly applies pressure to the spine as it develops. The abscess, along with her infection, is believed to have triggered cardiac arrest and brain damage that quickly led to her death. Some of the stated consequences of the alleged medical negligence included pain & suffering, mental anguish and paralysis.
Summary of Alleged Negligent Acts
- Failure to consider Drayton's co-morbidities such as the infection
- Failing to monitor, properly evaluate, and test her after the surgery
- Failing to order an MRI to diagnose her internal conditions
- The care provided did not adhere to the standards of medical treatment and this negligence was the cause of death
Plaintiff's Surgical Procedure
A posterior spinal fusion is clearly a serious surgical procedure, as patients remain in the hospital for an average of seven days. The procedure involves fusing two segments of the spine together using bone material from another part of the body. The two sections brought together are capable of detaching in the first few months after the procedure; therefore, tools such as rods and screws are used. This claim involves a failure to diagnose, which is increasingly a cause in cases of medical malpractice. An estimated 12 million patients annually in the U.S. are subjected to a diagnostic medical error.
The plaintiffs are also pursuing punitive damages in this case because the defendants exhibited “outrageous, grossly fraudulent, grossly negligent and reckless” actions. Punitive damages, which are rarely awarded, are in part designed to punish the offender and deter such actions. In the District of Columbia, there is not a limitation (cap) in place for the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded.