Compensation for Heart Surgery Negligence Awarded in Court

A girl, who suffered oxygen deprivation and physical disabilities for the first thirty years of her life due to a surgical error shortly after she was born, has been awarded 1 million dollars in compensation for heart surgery negligence by a jury in Los Angeles.

The girl, who was not named in court, was born at the Huntingdon Hospital in Pasadena in May 1979, and operated on the day after her birth by Dr Alan Gazzaniga to repair a problem  with the child´s heart. The Los Angeles County Superior Court heard that the septal wall in the girl´s heart which separated the left and right atriums needed rebuilding, however during surgery Dr Gazzaniga had connected the vena cava artery – the artery which returns de-oxygenised blood to the heart – to the wrong side of the septal wall.

As a result of this mistake, blood was directed into the wrong side of the heart and the girl suffered from oxygen deprivation, physical disabilities and other general health problems as she grew up. Despite ongoing medical examinations, the error was not noticed until 2007 and shortly before the woman´s thirtieth birthday in April 2009, she underwent corrective surgery at USC Hospital in Pasadena.

The surgeon who had performed the corrective surgery testified in court that Dr. Gazzaniga´s work had been “baffling” and “incorrect” and, along with two other cardiothoracic surgeons, explained to the court how the negligent heart surgery occurred and what the consequences had been. In their client´s defence, Dr. Gazzaniga´s legal representatives argued that the case was so old it should be thrown out for being brought beyond the Statute of Limitations.

The woman´s counsel disagreed, contending that it was a reasonable assumption at the time of the original operation that Dr. Alan Gazzaniga had met the required standard of care, and the claimant could not have been expected to known that her heart condition was the result of medical negligence by her surgeon prior to the discovery of the error in 2007 – which was within the Statute of Limitations as the claim for heart surgery negligence compensation had been filed shortly after the woman underwent the corrective surgery in 2009.

The judge accepted the argument and, after three weeks of litigation, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the claimant. They determined that Dr Gazzaniga had shown a lack of care during the initial surgery and awarded the woman compensation for heart surgery negligence amounting to one million dollars.