The eye doctor claimed that she had a lot of experience doing these surgeries. She reassured the patient that she’d done this many times and didn’t need to see a specialist.
She was on his health plan and if she was good enough for his health plan, he figured she must be good.
The reality was that this ophthalmologist had only done this procedure five times in her career. She was a general ophthalmologist and by no means a specialist. She never disclosed to the patient that she was not qualified to perform this surgery.
During surgery, she had to reconstruct the patient’s facial bone. It had been broken when he was mugged walking home one day. As a result of the broken facial bone, the patient’s muscle that controlled the eye was stuck within the fracture.
That meant that the patient could not move his eye left to right or right to left. It was stuck in one position. The surgical repair was simple, said the eye doctor. “I’ll get that muscle unstuck, and then repair the fracture and you’ll be good to go.”
During surgery the doctor was able to remove the stuck muscle from the fractured bone. She also was able to test it and make sure that it worked. Now the patient would be able to move his eye from right to left and left to right without a problem.
Oh yes...I should mention that this patient had no problem with the vision in his eye at all prior to surgery.
The doctor then when about fixing the broken facial bones. To do that she needed a special titanium plate to hold together the broken bones. That was held together with special screws that were attached to each bone.
She then closes the patient up and sends him to recovery. There were no complications. Everything went well...until the next day.
The very next day, the doctor came into the patient’s room and removed the eye patch.
“Did you remove the patch? I can’t see anything. Nothing. Not light, not shadows. Nothing.”
This was not good.
The ophthalmologist began to worry that maybe something bad had happened. Maybe he had a cerebral stroke. Maybe the nerve controlling the eye known as the optic nerve was somehow traumatized and swollen. She didn’t know.
Unbeknownst to the patient, the MRI showed that the titanium plate looked very close to the optic nerve that controled the nerve to the eye.
The doctor said “I need to get you back into surgery to see what’s going on.”
The patient didn’t have a choice. She knew what she was doing. She’s the eye expert.
The doctor went in now for the second time. She moved the titanium plate away from the optic nerve.
The next day she took the patch off the patient’s eye and again asked “So? What do you see now?”
What the eye doctor failed to tell the patient was that the MRI done on the day after surgery was shockingly revealing. It showed that the optic nerve that controls the impulses and images from the brain to the eye had been cut. “Transected” was the word the radiologist used.
Since the eye surgeon failed to recognize she cut the nerve during the first surgery and did not repair it immediately, the optic nerve died. As did the patient’s vision.
Incredibly, the doctor never mentioned this to the patient as the reason why he lost his vision. Instead, it was only when he came to me to evaluate his case that he learned the truth.
I had obtained all of his medical records. I had a board certified eye surgeon review the records and the MRI films. My expert called me to ask whether I had reviewed the MRI film yet. He said “I know why your client is blind in that eye. Come over and I’ll show you.”
He put the MRI on a light box and pointed to the optic nerve. Where there was supposed to be one continuous line leading from the brain to the eye, was instead two lines that seemed to have been interrupted.
We brought a lawsuit seeking compensation for my client. He was a down-to-earth humble man. He worked as a janitor and never bothered anybody.
What was so aggravating for my client was not the fact that he was now permanently and forever blind, he would find a way to cope with that. What was so painstakingly frustrating was that the eye doctor who did this failed to accept responsibility for her actions.
This is known legally as ‘asserting affirmative defenses’.
Even during my questioning of the eye doctor who was being sued at her deposition (a question and answer session under oath), she refused to acknowledge that she did anything wrong.
It was only weeks before trial that the defense finally recognized they had to settle this case. They had no valid defense.