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Jury Awards $13 Million To Family Of Mother Who Died From Surgical Complications

A jury in New York recently awarded a family $13 million in a case of medical malpractice. Cheryl Raefski was a 43-year-old homemaker who had a surgical operation to extract a benign polyp from her colon at New York University Medical Center. Dr. Christian Hirsch performed the operation and allegedly damaged a section of her bowel.

Hirsch was unaware of his mistake and Raefski complained of extreme pain after the procedure. Several days later a scan revealed that a severe septic infection existed leading to her untimely death. Her husband, a police officer in Harrison, filed a claim of medical malpractice shortly after. She left behind three minor children.

Family Brings Lawsuit

The ultimate cause of death, septic shock, is now among the leading causes of death in emergency departments. The jury in Manhattan took only one day to deliberate and ordered the $13 million award. Each of her three children will receive $3 million and her husband Darren will retain the balance. After receiving the award Mr. Raefski explained to his children that their mother was “still taking care of you.” Raefski has served with the Harrison Police Department for 24 years and once made headlines after a widely publicized arrest involving a stolen truck.

Overview of New York Tort Claims

New York law allows for fault to be allocated among the parties through comparative negligence. If the plaintiff is determined to be partially at-fault in an action, any award they receive would be reduced accordingly by this percentage. The statute of limitations for bringing a medical malpractice claim is two years and six months, with some limited exceptions. The state does not impose caps (limits) on any types of damages.

Colon Polyps

A colon polyp is an accumulation of cells within the area lining the colon. The majority of them are found not to be harmful. Sometimes these polyps will develop into a form of colon cancer. Colon cancer is a disease that progresses and recovery is more likely when detected early on. After the condition progresses the risk of death increases. The two primary types are non-neoplastic and neoplastic. The non-neoplastic type is much less likely to develop into cancer. There is a strong correlation between the size of the polyp and the presence of cancer.

Symptoms of Colon Polyps

Polyps in the colon area may or may not have some of the following symptoms:

  • Rectal bleeding may be an indicator of polyps and/or other conditions such as hemorrhoids
  • Odd colored stools, perhaps with a reddish color indicating the presence of blood
  • Constipation or diarrhea that persists for days or weeks at a time
  • Pain caused by some type of obstruction
  • Anemia or an iron deficiency

Colorectal Surgeon Malpractice Risks

The majority of surgical specialties are at a higher risk for cases of medical malpractice. The Weatherby Company, a physician staffing organization, reports that surgeons and OB/GYNs are the physicians that encounter the highest rates of medical malpractice. This Raefski case was a prime example of a claim that was the result of a surgical complication, which is the cause of roughly 31% of all claims against surgeons.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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