Neurosurgeons serve a vital function in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous injuries to the brain and the nervous system as a whole. They may be called upon for the emergency treatment of strokes, traumatic brain injuries and infections and are essential in the treatment of many congenital conditions and degenerative neurological conditions. Since the timely diagnosis and treatment of many neurological disorders is critical to providing a positive prognosis, the failure of these specialists to properly diagnose and treat a condition may result in catastrophic consequences for the patient and his or her family. The Chicago neurosurgical medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC work with the victims of medical negligence to help recover the compensation needed to cover the value of the expenses and suffering they must endure.
Neurosurgeons are Rare Specialists Who Must Undergo Extensive Training
The care provided by neurosurgeons is invaluable and they are in relatively short supply. At the moment, there are only around 4,000 neurosurgeons working in the United States and they may further specialize in fields such as neuro-oncology, neurogenetics, neurovascular surgery, the treatment of brain tumors, pediatric neurology or the treatment of traumatic injuries to the brain, spine or nervous system. In order to become neurosurgeons, medical students must dedicate well over a decade of their lives to education and training.
After completing medical school, the aspiring neurosurgeon will enter a one-year internship in the area of general surgery to acquire knowledge and skills that pertain to any form of surgical procedure. From there, he or she will need to complete a residency in neurosurgery that may last from five to seven years. Neurosurgeons wishing to enter a subspecialty can then complete a fellowship program in their desired discipline of neurosurgery which can last one to three years.
The high demand for neurosurgeons coupled with their rarity makes them some of the highest paid members in the field of medicine. An average salary for a neurosurgeon in the United States is over $540,000 and some have the potential to make much more if they are board certified, belong to reputable medical organizations and are licensed to practice in one of the subspecialties in the field. Our Chicago neurosurgeon malpractice lawyers don’t begrudge these specialists for receiving lucrative compensation for the valuable services they provide, but we do feel that they should be held accountable whenever their poor judgment or mistakes leave a lasting impression on the lives of their patients and their families.
Common Conditions Treated by Neurosurgeons
In addition to providing emergency care to patients who have suffered an injury to the head or spine and operating on stroke patients, neurosurgeons may provide treatment to patients with birth defects, tumors, cancer and degenerative conditions that damage the brain or nervous system. Some of the means they have to identify problems include imaging scans, spinal taps, angiograms and other diagnostic tests that allow doctors to form a picture of the brain and spine or to detect the presence of pathogens and abnormalities. The conditions that a neurosurgeon may treat can include the following.
- Traumatic brain injuries — many injuries to the brain go unnoticed and untreated due to the tendency for victims to feel no immediate symptoms. Others may exhibit symptoms that seem to go away and decide to refuse medical treatment because they feel fine. It is the delay in treating these people that can make their injuries so severe because microtears inside of the brain can fill with fluid over time and cause internal swelling, bleeding and damage to the surrounding areas within the brain.
- Strokes and aneurysms — it is critical for doctors to recognize the symptoms of a stroke or an aneurysm and take immediate action to treat the condition. Every minute and second counts whenever there is a bleed or blockage inside the brain because the brain is unable to regenerate lost cells. Neurosurgeons may be called upon to perform emergency surgery if there is a chance that the procedure may save the patient or reduce the severity of brain damage.
- Tumors — neurosurgeons are able to locate tumors and determine whether the masses are made up of cancerous or benign tissue. When these tumors are the cause of seizures, migraines and impaired cognitive function, the surgeon may choose to remove them and monitor the area over time to make sure that the tumors do not return.
- Neurological disorders — patients suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or other disorders that impact neurological function may be treated by a neurosurgeon.
- Degenerative disorders — conditions such as Huntington’s disease, ALS and dementia can result in the steady decline of cognitive function. In many instances, these declines also result in the impairment of motor function and require attentive care and treatment. While they are not curable, there are many treatment options available that can help patients live their lives out in dignity and with a measure of comfort.
- Developmental disorders of the brain and spine — a pediatric neurosurgeon may specialize in the treatment of congenital disorders and developmental conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Chiari malformations and more. Since these conditions may have an impact on other areas of the body, multiple specialists may work together to create and implement a treatment plan. The neurosurgeon’s role may be to perform procedures such as a selective dorsal rhizotomy or the implantation of a baclofen pump.
- Spinal injuries — neurosurgeons also treat injuries to the spine, which may include herniated discs, spinal compressions, broken vertebrae and bone spurs. Some of these injuries may cause extreme pain and limit motor function due to the exposure or compression of important nerves. The goal of the neurosurgeon is to eliminate the pain while restoring as full of a range of motion as possible.
- Infections — bacterial infections, viruses, fungi, and parasites may migrate to the brain and cause severe damage if undiagnosed and untreated. These infections often begin in another area of the nervous system such as the spine and move to the brain, which is why a spinal tap is often the most effective means of detecting pathogens so that doctors can prescribe a course of treatment. Untreated infections can result in abscesses, empyemas or inflammation, which is referred to as encephalitis.
How Missed Diagnosis and Poor Decision Making Result in Neurosurgical Malpractice
Unlike other tissues and organs in the body, the brain is incapable of healing itself. It is for this reason that any condition or disorder impacting cognitive function or nervous system health needs to be identified quickly. Whether the patient has suffered a blow to the head, is exhibiting signs of a stroke, has been diagnosed with a birth defect or is displaying symptoms of an infection, a delay in treatment can have a serious negative impact on his or her prognosis. Ways that neurosurgeons can miss diagnoses include the following.
- Failing to order the right tests — diagnostic testing is the only sure means through which any doctor can rule out a potential problem. When one test is inconclusive, it is important to order another which may be capable of providing information that the first did not. Many cases of missed diagnosis stem from the unwillingness of doctors to order tests in a timely manner, and when they finally do order the tests, it is too late.
- Misreading the test results — reading test results properly is just as important as ordering the tests to begin with and it is possible for the lab and the doctor to miss important information when reviewing test results due to strains on their time. This has catastrophic results for the patients and their families.
- Surgical errors — the majority of claims made against neurosurgeons are actually due to surgical mistakes. Whenever the brain or nervous system is the source of a problem, surgical intervention becomes risky. Cutting in the wrong location or letting the hand slip for a moment can cause irreversible damage that impacts the patient for life.
- Lack of qualified specialists — there have been some instances where serious injuries have worsened because no qualified neurosurgeon was on staff to treat the victim. When minutes and seconds are critical in the event of a stroke or traumatic brain injury, needing to transfer the patient to another facility can spell doom. In these cases, it is not the neurosurgeon who is considered negligent, but the hospital administration; which should have had the mind to hire personnel qualified to treat neurological injuries and disorders.
Neurosurgical Malpractice Awards
$1,500,000 Verdict; Neurosurgical Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This lawsuit arose after the unfortunate passing of a 58-year-old man. He decided to have spinal fusion surgery. A neurosurgeon performed that, and it went fine. However, he began to suffer pain in his back and neck during post-op recovery. That same doctor prescribed Dilaudid in order to alleviate the symptoms. Yet, that made things worse. The patient lost feeling in a lot of his body. Therefore, a different physician, also a neurosurgeon, discontinued the prescription. That is where things got controversial: the doctors said they discontinued it, but the patient still received it. That medication caused him to have back and spinal problems that rendered him a quadriplegic. He needed to be transferred to a nursing home for constant care. Unfortunately, while living there, he developed bed sores and died from those injuries. His estate sued the neurosurgeons, hospital, pharmacy, and nursing home among other parties. The defendants pointed their fingers at each other. They also got into a fact-intensive debate over the prescriptions. The plaintiffs essentially maintained that the man’s death was the result of their combined negligence. In wrongful death cases, the plaintiffs do not have to mete out exactly who was responsible for what-just that they each contributed to the wrongful passing in some manner. At the end day, a jury found it hard to disagree with them and awarded the estate $1.5 million in damages.
$10,000,000 Settlement; Neurosurgical Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This dispute involved a host of errors centered on neurological and surgical care. The patient was just thirty-one. He had pain in his back and leg, so he went to see a doctor. Staff recommended a CT-scan but that did not happen for several hours. Also, the scan itself took many hours as well because the patient could not sit still. During that time, he became paralyzed. The following day, a neurosurgeon diagnosed his paralysis as stemming from a spinal infection. That physician operated on the patient, but he still remained paralyzed. The man sued for these developments. He claimed the neurosurgeon, nurses, and other staff could have done a better job to prevent them from happening. His damages were staging: over $1 million in medical bills; over $1 million in lost wages; and millions more projected long-term losses. The defendants objected to blanket responsibility but did understand certain failures. To avoid the process of going through all of them one by one, they agreed to settle for $10 million.
$2,500,000 Verdict; Neurosurgical Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This case went all the way to a jury because the facts were hotly contested. It involved an obese woman with back problems. She was just thirty-five when these events took place. Her neurosurgeon determined that she needed surgery to repair a herniated disc in her lumbar region. Prior to this operation, the anesthesiologist identified that she had sleep apnea. Nevertheless, they went forward with the procedure. Doctors intubated her while she was awake because they feared her weight would make her prone to respiratory depression. The operation went forward without any problem, but trouble arose during post-op. As she lay in rehab, she complained of pain. Her attending nurse gave her an opioid, Dilaudid. Not long after, she was found unresponsive. She passed away from respiratory failure. Lawyers for her estate suggested that the negligent use of Dilaudid combined with her weight, sleep apnea, and other factors caused her death. They targeted the neurosurgeon, attending doctors and nurses, and the hospital itself. The lawsuit sought damages for lost society and income as well as suffering and grief. The defendants denied fault. They pointed to her pre-existing conditions as responsible for the tragic events. Thus, it was put to a jury. That jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.5 million-$1 million for lost society; $1 million for grief; and $500,000 for lost income.
$1,250,000 Settlement; Neurosurgical Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This case highlights the need to bring in neurosurgeons early in the process of medical consultations. The plaintiff was a woman in her late sixties. She had Arnold Chiari Malformation. That is an abnormality that prohibits spinal cord development. She was receiving treatment in a neurological facility. However, the problem was getting worse and other issues were arising. Finally, they brought in a neurosurgeon who completed decompression surgery. That staved off more trouble but could undo the damage that was already done. She suffered from facial weakness, swallowing difficulty, and reduced motor skills. Through her counsel, she sued the providers involved as well as the facility. Her lawsuit that they failed to bring in a neurosurgeon and that delay damaged her financially, physically, and emotionally. The defendants replied that they did order up a neurological consult, but they could not prove that in writing. Some of the staff said that it was orally confirmed. Their inability to directly rebut the plaintiff’s argument led them to settle. The woman received $1.25 million in compensation.
Why You Need an Experienced Advocate to Build Your Neurosurgical Malpractice Claim
Medical malpractice claims are no simple matters and the courts favor healthcare providers for the purpose of discouraging frivolous claims. If you have been injured due to a medical or surgical error, the best way to increase your chances of recovering the compensation you are entitled to receive is to enlist the help of an attorney who has been able to win similar cases in the past. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC owes its success with medical law claims to the many years of experience our lawyers have along with their record of successful recoveries while handling claims like your own.
Contact us today to arrange a free consultation with one of our award-winning Chicago neurosurgical medical malpractice attorneys so that we can begin investigating your claim and reviewing your legal options so that you can make an informed decision on how you choose to proceed. Since we work solely on a contingency fee basis, you are also guaranteed that our services come at no risk and you will not be required to provide attorneys’ fees in the event we are unable to secure compensation on your behalf.