On September 22, 2017, IADC member Todd Smyth and Kevin Horton of Smyth Whitley, LLC in Charleston, SC obtained a defense verdict on behalf of an ophthalmologist and his practice who specialize in the treatment of diseases of the cornea. The case was tried in the Court of Common Pleas before the Hon. Deadra L. Jefferson in Charleston, SC. The case involved a 63-year-old patient who underwent cataract surgery and developed a late, post-operative infection in one eye. The plaintiff sued all three ophthalmologists who were involved in her care: the original surgeon, a retina specialist, and the cornea specialist. She alleged that the infection was apparent in the cornea for approximately one month, but was not timely diagnosed or treated by any of the three because they took cultures from the wrong part of her eye. As a result of the alleged delay in diagnosis, plaintiff asserted that a fungal infection caused her cornea to perforate, and, as a result, she lost vision in that eye, she suffers from constant migraine headaches and light sensitivity, all of which has limited her activities of daily living and caused her to be unable to work. She presented a claim for damages of more than $2,200,000 in past and future medical costs and lost wages.
In response to the plaintiff’s claims, the defense argued that the infection was not in the cornea as proven by slit lamp photos taken by the cornea specialist, but rather it was behind the cornea in the anterior chamber, a very rare spot for an infection of any type to be. The defense further argued that all three specialists acted appropriately and in accordance with the standard of care by attempting to determine the type of infection via multiple anterior chamber cultures and in recommending the appropriate follow-up care. The defense also showed that plaintiff’s pre-existing glaucoma damage was the true cause of her alleged loss of vision and that her cornea had been successfully transplanted by the corneal surgeon. The defense also presented evidence that infections of the anterior chamber are exceedingly rare following cataract surgery and that fungal infections in this area are essentially unheard of. The defense called an expert cornea specialist who testified that the proper course of treatment was to culture the anterior chamber until the type of infection could be discerned. The expert further testified that there was no medical basis to suspect a fungal infection or to prophylactically prescribe antifungal medications that are themselves known to be very toxic. The defense also presented evidence that the plaintiff’s vision in the affected eye was very poor prior to the infection secondary to advanced glaucoma, and that her prognosis for future vision was very grim once she acquired an infection of any kind in this eye. The case was tried over five days and the jury returned a unanimous verdict for all three ophthalmologists.