If you've had some complications after a spinal fusion procedure, you may be wondering if your injuries are the result of medical malpractice. This article discusses the common risks of spinal fusion and the general nature of spinal fusion malpractice lawsuits, and offers a few sample verdicts.
Spinal fusion is the surgical procedure of permanently connecting two or more vertebrae in the spine. The procedure is used to stabilize, straighten or reduce pain in the spine. The common reasons for undergoing a spinal fusion range from a broken vertebrae or removal of a herniated disk to correcting the spinal deformities scoliosis and kyphosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, common risks of spinal fusion include:
While medical negligence can show up in a variety of forms, there are essentially three ways your surgeon or other medical professional can be liable for malpractice when it comes to spinal fusion:
For the first two types of malpractice, the question is whether a reasonably competent surgeon or other medical practitioner in the same position could make the same mistake (this is called the medical standard of care). For example, just because your surgeon damages one of your nerves does not necessarily mean malpractice has occurred. The question is whether a reasonably skilled practitioner would have been able to avoid the same mistake. Ultimately, a jury must decide that question after hearing conflicting testimony from expert medical witnesses for both sides of the case.
When it comes to failure to recommend an alternative procedure, or whether the spinal fusion should have been recommended at all, know that your malpractice case faces an uphill battle -- there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding spinal procedures and remedies in general with a lot of disagreement among equally reasonable and competent professionals. However, there have been a number of successful medical malpractice cases stemming from spinal fusions that should not have been recommended in the first place.
If your claim is that your doctor failed to fully warn you of all the risks of a spinal fusion (called "lack of informed consent"), depending on your state you will either need to prove that a reasonable patient would have wanted the missing information or that a reasonable doctor would have included the information. Either way, you need to convince a jury that if the risk had been disclosed, a reasonable patient would have refused the procedure.
Given the well-known complications of spinal fusions, your doctor most likely detailed those risks to you in person and had you sign an informed consent sheet before the procedure. Simply because you signed the sheet does not mean you will lose your informed consent case, but it does make winning harder.