Posted on Aug 12, 2006
Jury awards patient $3.5 million Gastric bypass blamed for brain injury
Jury's malpractice award is $3.5 million in gastric-bypass suit
By JIM HALL
Date published: 8/12/2006
By JIM HALL
A Fredericksburg Circuit Court jury awarded $3.5 million yesterday to a woman who suffered a brain injury during gastric-bypass surgery.
The award came at the end of a five-day trial. It is believed to be one of the largest medical malpractice awards ever in the Fredericksburg area.
The damages are expected to be reduced to $1.65 million, the state-mandated malpractice cap at the time of the injury.
Tamatha Cooley brought the civil suit against Dr. Bradford L. King and his practice, Surgical Associates of Fredericksburg, following her weight-reduction surgery in May 2003.
The Spotsylvania County woman is the mother of four children and was 36 at the time of the surgery. She worked as office manager at a home inspection company.
Cooley weighed 282 pounds, or about 140 pounds over her ideal weight, according to court testimony. King performed her gastric-bypass surgery through an open incision on May 20, 2003, at Mary Washington Hospital.
The surgery is increasingly popular with morbidly obese patients. The surgeon creates a walnut-sized pouch at the top of the stomach and bypasses a portion of the stomach and small intestine. The procedure limits the amount of food that a patient can eat, resulting in often dramatic weight loss.
Cooley's initial surgery was successful, and the early stages of her recovery went well, according to court testimony. However, after about four days, her vital signs deteriorated and her pain increased.
Cooley's Richmond attorneys, Malcolm P. McConnell III and Jason W. Konvica, argued that King failed to recognize or treat this decline.
McConnell said that the "standard of care" required King to be suspicious of a possible leak in the bypass, which did occur.
"The doctor failed to follow that standard," McConnell said after the trial. "I think that was a simple thing for the jury to grasp."
Cooley seemed to recover the next day and was discharged from the hospital. But she returned to the hospital later that day and had emergency surgery in the middle of the night to repair the leak in her bypass.
King testified that Cooley vomited while being anesthetized for her second surgery. The vomited material moved to her lungs, damaging them. Her lung injury meant that her brain was deprived of oxygen, King said.
McConnell argued that the lung and brain injury occurred after material leaked from her new bypass.
Tara M. McCarthy, King's attorney, could not be reached for comment after the trial.
Cooley testified during depositions but did not attend the trial. She no longer works or drives and is rarely left home alone, according to court testimony.
"She's unable to carry out the activities of daily living safely," testified Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, a neuropsychologist and one of the expert witnesses.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching a verdict.
King was the only surgeon to do gastric-bypass operations at Mary Washington. He did about 57 of them between August 2002 and June 2003, when he stopped. The procedure is no longer done at Mary Washington.