The Kuntz Case
This 44 year old female had symptoms of a pinched spinal nerve on her left side. Diagnostic films showed a small protruding disc on the right side of her spine but no symptoms on the right side. Although there was no medical correlation between a spinal deformity and her symptoms, clearly no cause and effect, the surgeon nonetheless recommended surgery to correct the protruding disc.
The surgeon tore the protective sheath around the spinal cord for several disc levels up but did not fully repair the dural sheath tear because he claimed that he could see the whole tear in his operating field and chose not to expose more of the spine to attempt a complete repair.
He closed the surgical site, discharged the patient and left town on vacation leaving no one in charge. The patient ultimately developed a torn dural sheath and rapidly developing paralysis. Another surgeon was called in from an unrelated group to perform emergency surgery. The failure to repair the tear resulted in a very extensive second surgery and a worsening of the plaintiff’s symptoms including substantial paralysis below the chest and cauda equina syndrome.
Plaintiff’s experts would have testified that the standard of care prohibited operating on a protruding disc that was not causing any symptoms and that the dural sheath tear should have been completely repaired in the first surgery. Also, it was malpractice to leave such a patient with no one to monitor a potentially dangerous condition. The initial protruding disc was too small to justify surgery. It was not causing any symptoms and the only reason the patient underwent the risky second surgery was because the first unjustified surgery was done negligently.
The case settled for a large sum allowing the family to better support and care for the now-disabled family member.