The patient, Jennifer Ronca of Pennsylvania, had undergone the first of a two-part brain surgery. But the surgeon for the second part, Paolo Bolognese, failed to appear and operate. He remains on staff at the hospital.
A second neurosurgeon, Dr. Thomas Milhorat, refused to step in when called. He has now retired.
The first thought on reading the story is: So what were the damages? And defense counsel Tony Sola of Martin, Clearwater & Bell, one of the talented “regulars” of the malpractice defense bar here in New York, echoed that very thought when asked for a quote, saying that Ms. Ronca was “not injured” as her surgery was completed several weeks later.
But Ms. Ronca was, of course, injured. At the barest minimum she had an additional surgery and had her recovery delayed by those several weeks, in addition to any deficits that might have occurred due to the delay. There seems to be little doubt that trying to demonstrate (and defend against) such deficits will be the crux of the damages portion of the case.
On Ms. Ronca’s side is Mark Bodner, one of the regular plaintiff’s malpractice attorneys. Both sides are well represented here.
And it’s well worth noting that the damages sought are “unspecified” in accordance with New York law, notwithstanding that some lawyers break that rule. And even when pressed by the reporter for a number, because reporters love putting those numbers in headlines, he declined.
There is a demand for punitive damages also, and as both Bodner and Sola realize, such a claim has a very high hurdle indeed. I’m not sure if any punitive damage award has ever been upheld against a doctor in New York. While the conduct here might look particularly egregious, if there was a scheduling or communications snafu that caused it, such damages are unlikely to be awarded.
(hat tip to Scott Greenfield for picking this up out of Newsday)