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Sunday, January 7, 2007

How Could Billy Have Known?: A surgical error lawsuit

In November 1999, Billy Karl Boone had an ear infection and white, pus-like drainage in his left ear. His primary care doctor referred him to an ear, nose and throat surgeon, who determined that his life was in danger because of a rare condition in which skin cells proliferate and debris collects within the middle ear, usually as a result of a long-term middle-ear infection (a cholesteatomoa). The surgeon suggested surgery—a revisionary masteoidectomy--to be done at his own outpatient surgical center. The next day, Billy started having difficulty reading, remembering names, and recalling words. An MRI scan and a CT scan of his brain revealed heavy internal bleeding, and an apparent opening in his skull at the site. The surgery had punctured a hole in his brain, causing serious and permanent brain damage.

Billy won a jury verdict of almost $1 million. The final appeals, concerning informed consent, were decided last month. The surgeon had not informed him beforehand that he had only performed one such operation in the last three years. Billy didn't ask, and the surgeon didn't tell.

Advice to patients and advocates: If you need surgery, find a surgeon who has extensive recent experience in performing that operation.

Read about another surgical error story. Or read the final court opinion, or the Maryland malpractice lawyer's blog.