Case Name: Betty J. Geldersma and Gerald Geldersma v. Michigan Pain Consultants, P.C., and Dr. Noel Scott Ashcraft, D.O., No. 05-10976-NH
Case Type: Medical Malpractice
- Bradley K. Glazier; Bos & Glazier, P.L.C.
- Carole D. Bos; Bos & Glazier, P.L.C.
- William D. Vines III; Butler Vines and Babb
Defense Attorney(s): John C. O’Loughlin; Smith, Haughey, Rice and Roegge
Case Outcome: Verdict – Plaintiff
Award Amount: $6,100,000.00
While visiting relatives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 59-year-old Betty Geldersma, from Tennessee, sought treatment for issues relating to neck pain. Geldersma had undergone neck surgery before she went to the Michigan Pain Consultants (MPC) based on a referral.
Dr. Noel S. Ashcraft at MPC gave Betty three injections on both sides of her cervical spinal canal. However, she maintains that Ashcraft did not sterilize the injection site before he gave her the shots. Furthermore, there was no wiping of the injection area with Betadine or alcohol.
After returning to Tennessee from the Michigan visit, Geldersma immediately started showing signs of an epidural abscess. She experienced fever, was weak in her extremities, and had difficulty breathing. Moreover, her condition became so bad that she went to the local hospital emergency room. This happened two days after she received treatment at MPC. Caregivers there then diagnosed Geldersma with a staph infection. The infection stemmed from an epidural abscess in the area where Dr. Ashcraft had administered the cervical spine shots.
The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus lives on the skin and sometimes in the nose of humans. These bacteria are usually harmless. However, when staph bacteria enter the skin or body through a cut, scrape, wound, or contaminated food, they can cause infection and serious illness.
For Geldersma, despite a neurosurgeon’s removal of her epidural abscess and actions to gain control over the staph infection, the damage had already been done. Betty sustained serious neurological damage, rendering her an incomplete quadriplegic. With this condition, Geldersma is paralyzed below the waist and can no longer control her bladder and bowel functions. She did retain some use of her upper extremities.
Allegations and Testimony
Geldersma and her husband, Gerald Geldersma, filed a lawsuit against Michigan Pain Consultants and Dr. Noel Scott Ashcraft. As the plaintiffs, they assert that Dr. Ashcraft was negligent when he conducted Betty’s treatment. They further allege that his failure to comply with the basic medical practice of swabbing the injection area before giving Betty the shots caused her infection and ensuing life-changing injuries.
During the two-week trial, Gerald Geldersma testified that Ashcraft didn’t swab the skin with disinfectant before giving Betty the injections. Moreover, Ashcraft testified that he didn’t have a specific recollection of whether he did or did not wipe the injection area. However, Ashcraft added that his usual practice was to swab.
The neurosurgeon who treated Geldersma and removed her abscess testified that he saw infected needle tracks in the injection area.
The plaintiffs’ counsel showed the jury a video of a “day in the life of” Betty Geldersma. The visual evidence gave the jury a real picture of how difficult her life was with her paralysis and incontinence.
Who Won the Case?
The jury sided with the plaintiffs and awarded them $6.1 million. However, note that the parties subsequently settled the case for a confidential amount.
The jury determined that Betty Geldersma deserved the following personal injury damages:
- $2,840,000 for future medical costs
- $100,000 for future pain & suffering (2009)
- $1,474,291 for past medical expenses
- $100,000 for future pain & suffering (2010)
- $500,000 for pain & suffering
- $100,000 for future pain & suffering (2011)
- $50,000 for future pain & suffering (2008)
- $700,000 for future pain & suffering (2012-2018)
Her husband’s award was $150,000 for past loss of consortium.
The plaintiffs retained expert witnesses in:
The defendant retained an expert witness in:
As in most medical malpractice cases, expert witness testimony on standards of care is critical. Here, the plaintiffs’ expert documented for the jury that disinfecting an injection area before giving a patient a shot is a basic standard of care all physicians must adhere to. This may seem like an obvious, widely-known medical precaution. However, it was still essential to have a credible witness establish the standard.
The plaintiffs’ counsel’s calling the treating physician for the abscess to testify that he saw infected needle tracks on Geldersma’s arm was likely enormously powerful testimony. Establishing this fact from a physician that had no personal stake in the trial outcome clearly overcame Dr. Ashcraft’s claim of not remembering if he had or had not swabbed the area.
Lastly, as the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Counsel’s strategic use of the visually-impactful video showing what daily life was like for Geldersma after the staph infection injured her neurological functions is a tactic other medical malpractice attorneys will want to adopt.