As a medical practitioner, you probably have strong feelings about medical malpractice cases. However, it's worth reading and discussing malpractice cases in order to educate yourself. In this piece, we'll walk through several cases of medical malpractice, including the most expensive in history and the circumstances surrounding the case.
Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor or other healthcare professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. Johns Hopkins patient safety experts calculated that more than 250,000 deaths per year are due to medical error in the U.S. This figure surpasses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) third leading cause of death, respiratory disease. Respiratory disease kills 150,000 people per year. Based on Journal of the American Medical Association research of medical malpractice cases in 2020, approximately 2% of those suffering from medical malpractice file claims for compensation.
In the next section, we'll list and describe the most expensive medical malpractice cases, celebrity medical malpractice cases as well as the most unusual medical malpractice cases.
Most expensive medical malpractice cases
The most expensive medical malpractice cases won over the course of history include the following:
In 2019, a jury awarded Erica Byrom $229 million (reduced to $205 million due to a Maryland state cap), which was the largest medical malpractice verdict in U.S. history. Byrom's daughter suffered a brain injury during birth at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. A judge reduced the award to $205 million because of a state cap. Byrom declined a C-section because doctors had suggested that the baby was non-viable, which was incorrect. Hospital staff also stopped monitoring the fetus and didn't receive enough oxygen to her brain. The child has cerebral palsy and requires 24/7 care.
In 2012, the in-utero heart rate of Andrew and Jennifer Blunt's baby fluctuated dramatically before birth but the California doctor did not hasten the birth of the baby or perform a proper cord blood examination. The baby was diagnosed with an airway obstruction following birth and the NICU could not establish an airway.
In 2011, the D’Attilo family from Connecticut was awarded the largest medical malpractice judgment in state history. The baby was born with cerebral palsy due a delay in delivery (in addition to other complications, the mother had half the normal amount of amniotic fluid) and a doctor who placed incisions in the wrong place during a cesarean section, depriving him of oxygen and leaving him with profound brain damage and cerebral palsy. The child is unable to crawl, walk, talk or eat and requires care around the clock.
In 2008, Dale Whyte, saw a doctor about cramps in his leg and discomfort in his left shoulder. The doctor ordered manual joint manipulation of all of Whyte’s major joints under anesthesia. Whyte experienced loss of oxygen to his brain and he was in a coma during the 2013 trial. The doctor conceded that the procedure was not necessary and he was trying to boost his income. The jury awarded Whyte $23.58 million for lost earnings and past and future medical expenses and $5 million for pain and suffering. His two daughters were also awarded $5 million each.
In 1998, an unborn child in Florida was starved of oxygen during labor due to the mother being given too many drugs to stimulate labor. The child's condition resulted in severe cerebral palsy. The plaintiff received a $15 million reward in 2012 due to state caps.
Celebrities aren't exempt from medical malpractice cases, and here are five of the most famous:
In 2007, actor Dennis Quaid's wife Kimberly gave birth to twin babies in November 2007. The twins developed staph infections and received a dose of heparin, a blood thinner, 1,000 times greater than necessary on the babies. The babies were in critical condition due to the overdose and the hospital tried to cover up the mistake. The Quaids settled their lawsuit for $750,000.
The singer and actress of "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" fame, underwent surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her throat. During the procedure, her vocal cords were damaged and she settled out of court with her doctor for an undisclosed amount.
Of Saturday Night Live fame, Dana Carvey, needed heart surgery in 1997, a coronary artery bypass. Not until his fourth angioplasty by a different doctor did Carvey learn that the original surgeon had bypassed the wrong artery. Carvey won a $7.5 million lawsuit against the surgeon.
During a routine endoscopy, comedian Joan Rivers had a heart attack and died from complications. Doctors at the clinic instead performed a laryngoscopy on Rivers’ vocal cords without consent, didn't keep proper medication records, took photos of Rivers and failed to obtain informed consent for every procedure. The clinic also failed to record Rivers’ weight before administering sedation medication. Rivers' daughter, Melissa, sued, and the case was settled in 2015.
Artist Andy Warhol died after routine gallstone and hernia surgery at age 58, which resulted in a lawsuit. The hospital settled with the estate in 1991 for a confidential amount in 1991.
Now, let's take a look at some unusual medical malpractice cases. By the way, how long do medical malpractice cases take? It can take two years or longer to reach a settlement or verdict for medical malpractice claims, and you'll see evidence of that length of time in some of these cases listed:
Forceps left in body cavity during surgery
Mary Harber of Washington state had a benign tumor removed from her abdomen in 2017. After experiencing severe pain in her back, kidney and abdomen, she traveled to the ER, where doctors found eight-inch forceps inside her, which were left during her surgery.
Amputating the wrong leg
Willie King of Florida was scheduled for an amputation of his right leg below the knee due to diabetes complications in 1995. His surgeon removed King's left leg instead. Nurses informed Sanchez of his mistake midway through the procedure but it was too late. King claimed $1.15 million in damages.
Fertility clinic mix-up
In a case involving in-vitro fertilization (IVF), New York woman Nancy Andrews and her husband realized that after their baby was born, she was inseminated with the wrong man’s sperm. She sued the clinic for emotional damages in this case.
Incompatible blood type
Jesica Santillan had a life-threatening heart condition and was scheduled to undergo a heart and lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center. The surgeons who performed the procedure failed to check the compatibility of the donor’s blood type with Jesica’s. A second surgery sent Jesica into a coma and she died two weeks later.
Surgeons remove healthy kidney
Surgeons at the Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in Minnesota removed the wrong kidney in a patient during surgery. The other kidney, which had a tumor, stayed in the patient's body cavity. The pathologist on call at the hospital found no evidence of cancer but the removed kidney remained fully functioning.
Melissa is the owner and founder of College Money Tips. Formerly the editor at Benzinga Money, she has also written for Investopedia, The Balance and Personal Capital. Melissa writes fresh, thought-provoking content (with a touch of humor) about topics in personal finance, higher education, and travel.