Surgeon’s Negligence Leads to $17.2 Million Verdict for Motorcyclist Left Paralyzed

After undergoing spinal surgery, a man suffered a stroke and was left paralyzed permanently. In the medical malpractice suit, the jury awarded the man $17.2 million for his paraplegia and stroke.

Kandace Watkins, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on July 25, 2022

Surgeon’s Negligence Leads to $17.2 Million Verdict for Motorcyclist Left Paralyzed

On June 4, 2017, Michael Rodgers, a motorcyclist from Pocahontas County, West Virginia, was in a motorcycle collision. Rodgers was then transported to Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) for treatment. At CAMC, Dr. John R. Orphanos, a board-certified neurosurgeon and spine surgeon, then treated Rodgers. Dr. Orphanos then ordered a CT scan of Rodgers’ chest. Moreover, the imaging revealed a spinal fracture but otherwise showed no neurological deficits. For the first two days of Rodger’s stay at CAMC, he had sensations in his extremities and could move them.

Complications from Spinal Surgery

On June 6, 2017, Dr. Orphanos initially prescribed a course of treatment for Rodgers. The treatment would require Rodgers to wear a back brace for six to eight weeks. However, Dr. Orphanos ultimately recommended spinal surgery. Moreover, Dr. Orphanos did not order an MRI scan of Rodgers’ spine prior to surgery. The MRI scan could be used to evaluate the spinal cord. Furthermore, the MRI scan could determine whether there were any existing or potential problems with Rodgers’ spinal cord or soft tissue surrounding the fracture.

On June 6, 2017, Dr. Orphanos performed spinal surgery on Rodgers. The spinal surgery included spinal fusion to connect vertebrae in Rodgers’ spine. Dr. Orphanos completed the surgery without the use of special monitoring equipment. However, when Rodgers woke up from his surgery, he discovered that he had lost all motor function and sensation in his lower extremities.

Following the first spinal surgery, Dr. Orphanos ordered an MRI for Rodgers. The MRI imaging, however, was distorted, and a new or more detailed scan was not ordered. Rodgers continued to complain about the loss of motor function and sensation in his extremities. As such, Dr. Orphanos performed a second spinal surgery on Rodgers. As with the first surgery, Orphanos performed the second surgery without the appropriate pre-surgical diagnostic testing or special monitoring equipment. Following the second spinal surgery, Rodgers experienced complete paralysis in his lower extremities. In 2020, Rodgers suffered from a stroke. Today, Rodgers uses a wheelchair and has no chance of recovering from his paraplegia.

Procedural History

Medical Negligence With First Surgery

In May 2019, Rodgers filed suit against Dr. Orphanos in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Rodgers first alleged that Dr. Orphanos was negligent in pre-operative care, in the first surgery, and in post-operative care.  Specifically, according to Rodgers, Dr. Orphanos breached his standard of care when he failed to order a pre-operative MRI for Rodgers’ spine and develop a surgical plan based on the results of the MRI. Orphanos also breached his standard of care by failing to utilize the special monitoring device during surgery known as NIOM. Rodgers also alleged that Dr. Orphanos breached his standard of care by failing to recognize and correct Rodgers’ underlying spinal injuries. Regarding the post-operative standard of care, Rodgers alleged that Dr. Orphanos also breached the standard of care by failing to order clear post-operative images of Rodgers’ spine in order to determine the cause of his new onset paraplegia.

Medical Negligence With Second Surgery

As it relates to the second surgery, Rodgers alleged that Dr. Orphanos was negligent in performing the second surgery when he also failed to use the appropriate pre-surgical diagnostic testing or special monitoring equipment. Furthermore, Rodgers alleged that the permanent paralysis of his lower extremities could have been avoided if not for Dr. Orphano’s negligence and breach.

Gross Negligence and Recklessness Allegations

Next, Rodgers alleged that Dr. Orphanos was grossly negligent and reckless when he ignored the standard of care at each step in Rodgers’ treatment. According to Rodgers’ complaint, Dr. Orphanos acted with gross negligence and reckless indifference by knowingly breaching his standard of care by performing surgeries on Rodgers without the appropriate and required tests and monitoring. According to Rodgers, a reasonable and prudent health care provider operating in the same or similar circumstances would not have failed to provide the appropriate care and treatment.

Rodgers claimed that as a direct and proximate cause of Dr. Orphanos’ negligence and gross negligence, he is entitled to damages for medical bills incurred, past and future conscious pain and suffering, past and future mental and emotional distress, past and future loss of enjoyment of life, past lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, and all other damages he is entitled under West Virginia law.

The Verdict

On March 24, 2022, after an eight-day trial in Charleston, West Virginia, a jury ruled in favor of Rodgers. The jury found that Dr. Orphanos’s actions were grossly negligent. The verdict included $10.4 million in damages for Rodgers’ paraplegia and an additional $6.8 million for Rodgers’ stroke.

What Attorneys Can Learn From This Medical Negligence Case

Dr. Orphanos owed Rodgers, his patient, a standard of care as his treating surgeon. However, Dr. Orphanos deviated from that standard of care. Furthermore, the jury found Orphanos to be negligent and grossly negligent for his failure to order the appropriate pre-surgical scans and use special monitoring equipment during Rodgers’ two spinal surgeries. Moreover, Dr. Orphanos was reckless and negligent in his handling of Rodgers’ sensitive spinal column. As a result, Rodgers is now paraplegic and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. The $17 million verdict will allow Rodgers to seek the ongoing services and medical care he will need.

This case serves as a reminder to medical malpractice lawyers about the importance of demonstrating the appropriate standard of care at each step in the treatment and care of a patient. Here, the plaintiff was able to describe how the defendant breached his standard of care at three different critical stages in treatment: pre-operative, operative, and post-operative care. The plaintiff was also able to clearly establish that with each breach of care at each stage of treatment, the defendant’s conduct became increasingly reckless.

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