IADC member Todd W. Smyth of Smyth Whitley, LLC in Charleston, South Carolina recently obtained a defense verdict for a plastic surgeon and his medical practice in a wrongful death case filed in the Court of Common Pleas. The case, filed by the decedent’s parents, alleged medical negligence in the treatment of their daughter who underwent an elective facelift. The decedent was a 47 year-old, single mother of a special-needs son. Her son found her dead in her bed the morning after the facelift.
Plaintiff originally alleged that the decedent was discharged home following the procedure and bled to death. This allegation was based primarily on an autopsy report that the defense argued was riddled with mistakes and omissions. However, after discovery and expert testimony revealed that bleeding was not the likely cause of death, Plaintiff abandoned that theory and, just prior to trial, asserted an alternative theory. They alleged that due to a remote history of obstructive sleep apnea, the patient either should not have been subjected to this elective procedure and/or should have been monitored overnight in a hospital setting. Although the patient did have a history of significant sleep apnea three years earlier, the defense argued that she underwent surgery to correct this problem and had been asymptomatic since that time. The defense further asserted the patient was questioned about her history of sleep apnea as part of the initial evaluation for the facelift, but she denied any current problems to both her surgeon and to the anesthesiologist. The defense also observed that the patient did not demonstrate any symptoms consistent with sleep apnea before, during, or after the facelift, despite being given an anesthetic that is often used to trigger apneic events by physicians trying to evoke this response in order to evaluate the disease. Finally, the defense offered evidence that there were other more plausible and likely explanations for the Plaintiff’s death that had never been explored due to the inadequate autopsy investigation.
After several hours of deliberation, the jury of 12 delivered a unanimous defense verdict in favor of the plastic surgeon and his practice.