JUDGMENT: A Case of Medical Malpractice by Gall Kessler

JUDGMENT: A Case of Medical Malpractice

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As a case history this attempts to sift through the details and find the substance behind the doctors' double-talk, the patient's inconsistencies, and the lawyers' strategies. What emerges is neither surprising nor resolute: most probably, Betty Burke is a paraplegic because of an honest surgical lapse unacknowledged and subsequently compounded by professional misjudgment and cover-up. Following a laminectomy (removal of a ruptured disk) in 1967, a leak of spinal fluid developed; the leak was mistreated and arachnoiditis set in, resulting in considerable pain, loss of muscle control, and eventual paralysis some years later. Her lawyers were diligent in following up minor leads and finding doctors willing to testify against their peers--the most difficult assignment. In court they subscribed to the big-trial practice of using a psychologist to help with juror selection, and even introduced a film of Betty Burke as evidence. The doctors seem defensive, unwilling to admit that someone's judgment was awry; the patient, a victim of her own unquestioning attitude as well, is both alert and unable to recognize the finality of her condition; and the lawyers press on, responding to her human distress, knowing they get a share of the take. In addition some of the jurors' comments On specific aspects of the case appear, revealing how the ultimate judgment ($404,000 compensation) was reached. A reasonably balanced treatment of a most unfortunate sequence that sheds some light on the gray areas of doctor-patient exchanges.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Mason/Charter