Famous Medical Malpractice Cases

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A Comprehensive Look at Medical Malpractice Suits and Notable Cases

Medical malpractice cases can take on many forms, with multiple causes and a wide variety of results. Often, medical malpractice cases gain notoriety, either for the persons involved in the suit, or the unusual circumstances leading up to them.

Here are some notable medical malpractice cases that have happened throughout the years. Although most come with an incredible story, all of them carry a common thread: many of these payouts would not have happened were it not for the efforts of a skilled attorney with decades of experience in personal injury and malpractice law.

Basic Statistics for Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice remains a major cause of injury and death in the United States.

  • According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, medical malpractice ranks as the third leading cause of death – behind heart disease and cancer.
  • Medical malpractice causes more than 250,000 every year.
  • According to a 2016 study by the National Center for State Courts, medical malpractice are a small fraction of personal injury litigation, accounting for less than 5% of all such cases in the United States.
  • From 2009 to 2014, the rate of paid medical malpractice claims decreased by 55%.
  • According to a 2017 JAMA study, the average malpractice payment has increased by nearly 25% since the early 90s.
  • About 1 in 14 claims pay out for more than a million dollars.
  • Neurosurgeons and OB/GYNs face a higher risk of malpractice lawsuits than other medical specialists. This is likely due to the severity of their treatments, where a negative outcome can have catastrophic consequences.

A Comprehensive Look at Medical Malpractice Suites and Notable Cases

The First Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Occurred in 1164

Although medical malpractice claims may seem like a fairly recent convention, studies show that it may have been an established form of litigation throughout history.

What looks to be the earliest recorded case of medical malpractice litigation happened in 1164 in the England. The case, Everad v. Hoskins, involved a servant and his master collecting damages from a physician for practicing “unwholesome medicine.”

The First Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Occurred in 1374

Although Everad v. Hopkins may have been one of the earliest medical malpractice cases in history, Stratton v. Swanlond in 1374 is widely considered one of the first true medical malpractice lawsuits for establishing a foundation for breach of care.

In the suit, Agnes of Stratton and her husband sought damages from surgeon John Swanlond for breach of contract. Agnes underwent surgery on her severely deformed hand based on the surgeon’s guarantee that he could fully repair it – but afterward, the hand remained mangled. Although the case was ultimately dismissed due to filing errors, it nonetheless established standards of care between a physician and his or her patient.

The First Medical Malpractice Case in the US Occurred in 1794  Domestically, the first medical malpractice case occurred in 1794.

The suit alleges that a doctor promised to perform an operation on his wife in a skillful, safe manner, but failed to do so. As a result, his wife died on the operating table. The plaintiff won the case, receiving an award of 40 English Pounds.

The Largest Medical Malpractice Settlements in U.S. History

Although the quantity of medical malpractice cases has decreased over time, the payout amounts have increased drastically – even in just the past few years. Here are some of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in the United States.

$216.7 million

2006 – Medical Malpractice Suit in Florida

Considered one of the largest settlements in recent history, a Florida jury awarded Allan Navarro $216.7 million ($100.1 million in punitive damages) after he was left brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair after doctors misdiagnosed stroke symptoms. In August 2000, Navarro went to the emergency room after having symptoms indicative of a stroke. Despite telling nurses his family had a history of strokes, the doctors diagnosed him with sinusitis and gave him a prescription of painkillers. The next day, Navarro had to receive surgery to relieve swelling in his brain, and he spent nearly three months in a coma.  As a result, Navarro has limited cognitive abilities, and he is at risk of suffocating every time he swallows food due to the damage.


$190 million

2014 – Medical Malpractice Suit by Johns Hopkins Hospital

A jury ordered Johns Hopkins Hospital to pay $190 million to 8,000 plaintiffs on behalf of Dr. Nikita Levy, a gynecologist who was employed there for over 25 years. It was revealed that he had been secretly taking pictures and videos of his patients over the years, using a pen-like camera he wore during examinations. Levy was promptly fired in 2013, and when police investigation found more than 1,200 videos and 140 images of patients in his home, he committed suicide just days later.
After finalizing these proceedings, the plaintiffs named in this suit were mailed checks in 2017, ranging from $1,876.77 to $27,934.93.


$172 millionNew York

2014 – Judgement Against New York City

Tiffany Applewhite was awarded $172 million after a Bronx jury determined that paramedics were liable for providing bad advice to her mother. In 1998, Applewhite went into anaphylactic shock after being injected with steroids for an eye condition, and her heart stopped. Her mother called 911, and the Fire Department medics arrived without the necessary life support equipment, including oxygen or a defibrillator. Although she wanted to take Applewhite to the hospital, paramedics advised that she wait for another ambulance to arrive with the proper equipment. The ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, gave Applewhite the necessary care, and then transported her to the hospital. As a result of waiting, Applewhite retained severe brain damage and paralysis, including the inability to walk, talk, and take care of herself normally.


$135 million

2018 – Malpractice Claim Against the Detroit Medical Center

After a two-week trial, 10-year-old Faith DeGrand was awarded $135 million in damages after she was partially paralyzed after an operation. She was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Detroit Medical Center in 2010 for scoliosis surgery, but the rods and screws were inserted by the surgeon in such a way that her spinal cord became compressed, resulting in numbness of Faith’s extremities. Instead of immediate removal, the surgeon did not remove the hardware until 10 days later. As a result, Faith became a quadriplegic with permanent loss of bladder and bowel control.


Famous Medical Malpractices Cases

Celebrities are not immune to medical malpractice incident – some of the most recent tragic celebrity deaths have occurred due to some form of malpractice. Here are some notable celebrities who have experienced medical malpractice at the hands of negligent healthcare professionals.

Michael JacksonMichael Jackson

Background

On June 25, 2009, many were shocked to hear of Michael Jackson’s sudden, tragic death that seemingly occurred out of nowhere. After an extensive autopsy and toxicology report, it was found that Jackson died due to a number of drugs in his system, including Propofol, a powerful anesthetic normally used in surgical situations. Propofol is incredibly potent and has a wide variety of potential side effects that require constant monitoring by a team of physicians. Further investigation revealed that Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s personal in-home physician, routinely administered Propofol to his one and only patient so that he could sleep soundly through the night.

The Case

Dr. Murray was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Jackson, but was not  pursued for civil medical malpractice charges.

The Aftermath

A jury found Dr. Murray guilty of his crimes, and he received four years in prison, the maximum allowable sentence for involuntary manslaughter. In addition, his medical licenses in Texas and California were revoked, and he was ordered by the judge to pay $100 million in restitution to the Jackson family.


Joan RiversJoan Rivers

Background

In 2014, comedian Joan Rivers went to Yorkville Endoscopy complaining of a sore throat. Rivers, having a history of acid reflux disease, agreed to undergo a laryngoscopy and an endoscopy to examine her vocal cords and her upper digestive system. What followed was a series of medical errors and breaches in protocol that led to Rivers’ vocal cords swelling up and closing, rendering her unable to breathe. The doctors on hand ultimately failed to notice her vital signs were rapidly declining for at least 15 minutes before she went into cardiac arrest due to lack of oxygen. She died seven days later after being taken off life support.

The Solution

Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, filed a malpractice suit in 2015 against Yorkville Endoscopy and any other doctors that were on hand during the incident. A settlement was reached a year later, with the doctors accepting full responsibility for Rivers’ death.

The Aftermath

Dr. Lawrence Cohen, medical director of the clinic, stepped down from his position, and Yorkville Endoscopy was found to have numerous violations and irregularities during the investigation.


Donda WestDonda West

Background

In 2007, Donda West, mother of Kanye West, died tragically just one day after she underwent plastic surgery. Dr. Jan Adams performed breast reduction and tummy tuck surgery on her a day before she abruptly stopped breathing at her home. An autopsy found that West died of heart failure, and that “multiple post-operative factors could have played a role.”

The Solution

No lawsuits were filed on behalf of West, despite a potential display of negligence on Dr. Adams’ part.

The Aftermath

After Donda West’s death, an investigation found that Adams had a history of malpractice suits – from 2006-2009, Adam was named in 8 malpractice claims filed in Orange County. Additionally, Adams was found to have a history of DUI convictions, and in 2009, surrendered his medical license as a result. In the same year, he served eight months in jail for a third DUI conviction. Although the medical board reinstated his license in 2013, it was shortly revoked less than a year later because Adams did not submit to alcohol tests, enroll in an ethics course, or do community service – all terms required for reinstatement of his license.


Dana CarveyDana Carvey

Background

In 1998, comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus Dana Carvey underwent a double bypass operation to preserve his life. Two months later, he received word from his surgeon that they had mistakenly bypassed the incorrect artery. The surgeon claims it was an honest mistake that occurred due to the unusual positioning of  Carvey’s artery.

The Solution

Carvey filed a lawsuit against the surgeon who underwent the operation and the hospital for $7.5 million.

The Aftermath

Carvey underwent emergency surgery to repair the incorrect bypass, along with a lengthy recovery period that spanned almost two years. The suit was settled in 2000, but the details of the settlement were undisclosed. Carvey stated that the damages would be divided equally among several charity organizations, with those mainly focused on cardiac research.


Julie AndrewsJulie Andrews

Background

The famous singer and actor of classic films and musicals, including The Sound of Music, decided to have a throat operation in 1997 after developing noncancerous nodules on her vocal chords that were giving her discomfort when singing. However, the operation was botched, leaving Andrews with hoarseness and permanent vocal chord damage – rendering her unable to sing on a professional level.

The SolutionMicrophone

Andrews filed a malpractice lawsuit against two doctors and New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1999, which reached a settlement between the two parties. The terms of the settlement remain confidential.

The Aftermath

Although Andrews was never able to sing professionally again, she was able to redirect her talent to other creative outlets, including focusing on acting and writing dozens of children’s books. She still remains a popular celebrity beloved by a new generation.


Andy WarholAndy Warhol

Background

In 1986, artist Andy Warhol checked into the New York Hospital for an operation to remove gallstones and repair a ventral hernia. Two days after the operation, he died, seemingly of a heart attack – but the estate of Warhol alleges that the death was due to negligence on the part of physicians and nurses attending to him following his surgery.

The Solution

The estate of Andy Warhol filed a malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against New York Hospital and 11 other healthcare professionals who were tending to him at the time of his death. The suit argues that Warhol did not die of a heart attack, but rather fell into a coma because nurses failed to monitor the amount of fluids Warhol was receiving – resulting in more than twice the volume of fluids being administered. Warhol’s attorney alleges that the resulting internal pressure led to the heart failure that ultimately caused his death.

The Aftermath

New York Hospital settled the wrongful death suit with the Warhol estate for an undisclosed amount, with the agreement that the hospital was not legally required to admit liability for the incident.


Ed McMahonEd McMahon

Background

In 2007, television host Ed McMahon fractured his neck while suffering a fall at a Los Angeles home. When he visited Cedars-Sinai Medical Center the next morning, the doctors failed to diagnose is fracture, discharging him without taking an X-ray or investigating the matter further. When the problem was found by the hospital, McMahon underwent two spine operations to repair the damage.

The Solution

McMahon filed a malpractice suit with the hospital and the orthopedic surgeon for a failure to properly diagnose his neck fracture. Additionally, he claimed that the two operations he underwent were botched, causing him great pain and discomfort for months.

The Aftermath

Cedars-Sinai settled with McMahon for an undisclosed amount. Interestingly, McMahon also filed a premises liability suit with the owners of the home, alleging that his fall could have been prevented if the homeowners has adequate safety measures in place to prevent such a fall from happening.


Bill PaxtonBill Paxton

Background

On February 14, 2017, actor Bill Paxton underwent heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, replacing an aortic valve in the process. 11 days after the operation, he suffered a stroke and died. The family of Paxton believes this stroke may have been partly onset by the unconventional approach by Dr. Ali Khoynezhad, the surgeon who performed the operation on Paxton.

The Solution

Nearly a year later, the family of Paxton filed a wrongful death suit against the doctor and Cedars-Sinai Hospital. They allege that the surgeon’s poor judgement and high-risk surgery caused Paxton to suffer excessive bleeding, leading to cardiogenic shock and a compromised coronary artery – thereby directly contributing to the stroke he eventually suffered after the operation.

The Aftermath

The suit is still ongoing, and the hospital and surgeon deny any wrongdoing throughout the situation, claiming that Paxton was aware of the risks involved in the surgery.


Elvis PresleyElvis Presley

Background

The King of Rock and Roll died suddenly at age 42 on August 16, 1977, citing heart disease as the cause of death. However, it was later found that traces of 14 prescription stimulants and depressants were in Presley’s system at the time – which may have contributed to his death. As a result, much of the heat ended up on Presley’s personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos. Many claimed that he negligently prescribed drugs to Presley and without discretion.

The SolutionRock & Roll

In 1981, Nichopoulos was charged with prescribing drugs to Presley in an indiscriminate and negligent manner, but a jury found him innocent of charges.

The Aftermath

Nichopoulos would come under scrutiny for the next decade, as accusations of over-prescribing drugs continued through his career. In 1980, the medical board suspended his license for three months, and in 1995, his medical license was revoked when the Board of Medical Examiners found him guilty of gross malpractice and misconduct with 13 separate patients.


Dennis QuaidDennis Quaid

Background

In 2007, Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly welcomed their twins Zoe Grace and Thomas Boone into the world. When they were two weeks old, they developed staph infections and were taken to Cedars-Sinai, where they were given required treatment with Heparin, a blood thinning medication. The wrong dosage was unfortunately given to the twins – a dose meant for adults, not infants, more than 1000 times the dosage. They were each given two doses eight hours apart. As a result, the babies were left vulnerable to extreme bleeding – and the Quaids were not properly notified of any issues when they called that night. It was only when they showed up at the hospital the next morning, they were told the children were in critical condition. They spent 11 days in the NICU, fortunately making a full recovery.

The Solution

Although the Quaids did not file a lawsuit against Cedars Sinai Hospital, the matter was settled for $750,000.

The Aftermath

The Quaids did eventually file a lawsuit against Baxter Healthcare Corp., manufacturers of Heparin, for failing to put clear labels on Heparin bottles to distinguish proper dosage. Baxter failed to recall the product previously after three other infants previously died due to similar dosage errors. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but the Quaids may refile the lawsuit.


Geraldo RiveraGeraldo Rivera

The Solution

In 2010, reporter and media personality Geraldo Rivera went into the Hospital for Special Surgery for an operation on his back, and claims that his surgery was botched – leading to a crippled right foot.

The Solution

Rivera filed a medical malpractice suit against the hospital, alleging that they were the direct cause of the injury. According to the lawsuit, Rivera can no longer jog or play tennis, and has trouble playing with his daughter.

The Aftermath

The hospital’s lawyer claims the suit is unfounded, and that Rivera may have injured himself by kicking the refrigerator door in the rehab room. The suit is still ongoing, with the hospital hoping to dismiss the lawsuit.


John RitterJohn Ritter

Background

Comedic actor John Ritter tragically passed away in 2003 when he suffered an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner layer of the aorta. Doctors initially misdiagnosed the dissection as a heart attack, and therefore did not undergo proper procedures for the dissection, such as ordering a chest x-ray to further examine the damage. Additionally, physicians had failed to notice Ritter’s enlarged aorta when examining his heart two year prior to his death.

The Solution

The doctors involved in Ritter’s case were put on trial for negligence and liability, and after a month of proceedings, were cleared of any wrongdoing. Ultimately, even if the doctors had caught the dissection, there was not much they could have done to save Ritter’s life.

The Aftermath

In response to the sudden death, Amy Yasbeck, Ritter’s widow, set up The John Ritter Foundation to help spread awareness of aortic dissections, and promote preventive care to ensure those at risk receive the care that they need.


Famous Athletes’ Medical Malpractice Cases

Hulk HoganHulk Hogan

Background

In 2009, professional wrestling star and celebrity Hulk Hogan suffered a serious injury to his back that jeopardized his wrestling career. According to him, he was met with conflicting information from numerous professionals; several spine surgeons recommended spinal surgery to continue his career, while physicians at a Florida-based spine institute  claimed that spinal surgery would effective end

The Solution

Hogan filed a medical malpractice lawsuit with several physicians and clinics, including a Florida-based spine center and a surgery center, seeking $50 million in loss of past and future earnings.

The Aftermath

The medical malpractice suit was never resolved, presumably due to Hogan’s other legal troubles, which occurred in 2012. This includes his infamous legal battle with Gawker for defamation after the website posted an explicit video of Hogan without his consent. From this suit, he reached a $31 million settlement with Gawker, resulting in the bankruptcy and sale of the website to another corporation.


Other Notable Medical Malpractice Cases

Jesica Santillan

Jesica Santillan was a Mexican national who was smuggled into the country illegally by her parents in search for treatment of her condition. At age 12, she discovered that she suffered from cardiomyopathy, a condition resulting in a weakened, enlarged heart and poorly-functioning lungs.

At age 17, they raised enough funds for a heart and lung transplant at the prestigious Duke University Hospital. However, in the middle of the transplant, doctors discovered that Jesica’s blood type, type-O, did not match the type of the organs, type A. As a result, Jesica’s body rejected the transplant almost immediately, putting her in a coma as a result.

Doctors performed a rare second transplant two weeks later, but in the coming days, Jesica was declared brain dead and died in the hospital.

The Aftermath

Duke University and the family of Santillan reached a settlement regarding Jesica’s death, undisclosed under a court order. Additionally, federal government regulators conducted a thorough investigation of Duke Universiaty Hospital, citing them for multiple negligent organ transplant procedures that led to Jesica’s death.


Sherman Sizemore

On January 19, 2006, Sherman Sizemore was admitted to Raleigh General Hospital after complains of abdominal pain. As he underwent exploratory surgery to pinpoint the cause of the pain, the resident anesthesiologist administered paralyzing drugs to Sizemore, but failed to administer the general anesthesia that rendered him unconscious and pain-free. As a result, Sizemore experienced 29 minutes of painful surgery before the doctors noticed and properly administered general anesthesia.

Two weeks after his surgery, his daughters claimed that he was deeply traumatized by the experience, suffering nightmares and delusions that people were trying to bury him alive.

This all culminated on February 2, when Sizemore committed suicide by shooting himself.

The Aftermath

The family of Sizemore filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his behalf against Raleigh Anesthesia Associates, alleging that he was never notified that he hadn’t been properly anesthetized, resulting in severe psychological distress leading to his suicide. The suit was quickly settled for an undisclosed, confidential amount.


Kim Tutt

After a routine trip to the doctor, 34-year-old Kim Tutt was told she had a rare, aggressive form of cancer in her jaw, and that she would only have 3-6 months to live. The doctors stated that removing a portion of her jaw may extend her life by three more months, so Tutt agreed to it. The surgery involved removing her jaw from the left side of the chin to behind her right ear, replacing the bone with a fibula from her leg.

A few months after the surgery, the doctors called Tutt to apologize: her original biopsy was possibly contaminated in the lab, and she never had cancer to begin with. However, Tutt remained permanently disfigured from the surgery with a significantly lower quality of life.

The Aftermath

Tutt filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Texas pathologist responsible for improperly diagnosing her condition, and eventually settled in her favor for a confidential amount.


Closing Thoughts

Although these medical malpractice cases are especially egregious, we believe that all instances medical malpractice are serious cases that should be fully investigated. Cases in which medical professionals fail to uphold their duty of care come with dire consequences that can profoundly affect a patient’s quality of life for years to come.

Any patient who has been affected by medical malpractice has a right to pursue compensation from these professionals, holding them accountable for their negligent actions.