$1,800,000 – Unnecessary Back Surgery

A 12 member Philadelphia County jury returned a $1.8 million verdict late yesterday afternoon against a local doctor for performing unnecessary back surgery without the patient’s informed consent, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.

In what Michael F. Barrett of Daniels Saltz Mongeluzzi & Barrett LLP termed a “rush-to-cut case,” the jury found that neurosurgeon Said Alemo-Hammad performed spinal surgery on Daniel Fitzgerald of Port Richmond, which “never should have been performed in the first place,” the plaintiffs attorney said.

The jury also found that Alemo-Hammad had not properly obtained the 36-year-old construction worker’s informed consent for the two surgeries at issue, Barrett said.

Fitzgerald originally had consulted Dr. Alemo-Hammad after a July 3, 1990, construction site accident, in which he aggravated an existing back condition, Barrett said.

Almo-Hammad performed spinal back surgery on Fitzgerald on two separate occasions, “the results of which were failures,” Barrett said.

Fitzgerald eventually underwent a third back operation, performed by another surgeon, to try to correct his condition. The plaintiff amassed almost $300,000 in total medical bills, Barrett said.

Fitzgerald, who is now 42, is permanently disabled and is not able to return to his job as a brick mason, Barrett said. The trial, presided over by Judge Bernard J. Goodheart of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, lasted a week. Goodheart dismissed the Episcopal Hospital of Philadelphia, also named in the suit, during the trial, Barrett said.

After two hours of deliberations, the jury found that the two operations performed by Alemo-Hammad were “improper, unnecessary and non-indicated procedures,” Barrett said.

The jury found that Fitzprald showed “none of the appropriate indications of surgery,” and that Alemo-Hammad had failed to consider non-surgical procedures such as physical therapy, medications, and epidural steroid injections, he said.

The verdict also indicated that the jury agreed Alemo-Hammad also had performed the two operations without Fitzgerald’s informed consent, Barrett said. Alemo-Hammad’s explanations to Fitzgerald concerning the procedures were not properly documented, he said.

In addition, the difference in educational backgrounds between the plaintiff, who had no formal education beyond the eighth grade, and the defendant neurosurgeon may have affected the jury’s findings concerning the consent issue, Barrett said.

The verdict awarded Barrett $1.5 million and his wife $300,000 for loss of consortium. In addition, a motion for delay damages will be filed, Barrett said.

The case was tried before a 12-person jury at the request of the defendant’s attorney, Michael E. McGilvery of Wright Young & McGilvery, according to Barrett. McGilvery did not respond to a phone message seeking comment on the case.

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