Jury Awards $1.2M for Botched Back SurgeryMay 14, 2005 | AP
A Park County jury awarded almost $1.2 million to a Thermopolis man for a botched spinal surgery, one of the state's largest medical malpractice jury awards in years.
Wyoming Medical Society president Dr. Robert Monger, of Cheyenne, criticized Tuesday's verdict, saying it would increase malpractice insurance rates and exacerbate the state's doctor shortage.
Ooten, 33, was awarded $230,000 for medical expenses and lost wages and $770,000 for pain and suffering and other noneconomic damages; his wife was given $175,000 for loss of consortium.
In 2000, Ooten underwent spinal surgery at Big Horn Basin Orthopedics in Cody, where Dr. Stephen Emery removed the wrong cervical disc from Ooten's back.
"Within a week, he had to go to Billings to have neurosurgeons perform the surgery at the correct level," Hambrick said. "Since then, unfortunately the wrong surgery never healed." Two additional surgeries were done.
According to the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, no Wyoming malpractice case resulted in a jury award of $1 million or more between 1989 and 2002. A jury in Cheyenne awarded $999,999 in a case last year, but Tuesday's award was thought to be the highest in Wyoming in several years.
On the other hand, several out-of-court settlements have topped $1 million, some going as high as $3 million.
Monger said the jury verdict would have "a chilling effect on doctors in the state."
"It will be much more difficult to recruit doctors here and keep doctors in the state, and I think it will lead to higher malpractice insurance rates for all of us," he said. "The malpractice insurance crisis is getting worse and worse, and this is just another illustration of that."