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Court upholds malpractice verdict arising out of missed fracture

Richard Taylor suffered a fracture to the talar bone in his heel.  Talar fractures are nasty injuries and often do not heal well, due to the weight-bearing and heavy use of the heel.  In Taylor's case, however, the fracture was not diagnosed for several months, after Doctor Louis Bixler of Kent Radiology missed it on x-ray.  By the time Taylor's fracture was diagnosed, the fracture fragments had separated, become fibrosed, lost blood-supply, and developed arthritis.  By all accounts, including the defendant's, the paid experts and the treaters, the fracture had "worsened" and was harder to treat because it had not been treated when it first showed on x-ray the week after the injury.

Taylor filed suit against Bixler and Kent, and while Bixler could not recall reviewing the x-rays showing the fracture, he admitted that he authored the report which referred to only one view of the ankle and denied any fracture. (Bixler testified that he normally reviews about 150 films every day:  multiply that by the last radiology bill you received and you will have some sense of why medical costs are skyrocketing.)

The jury returned a verdict finding that Taylor was owed about $260,000.00 in future economic damages because of the doctor's negligence and $10,000.00 for the second surgery which his doctor indicated was necessitated by the delayed diagnosis and treatment.  The jury awarded Taylor no damages for pain and suffering.  Both sides appealed, alleging errors by the lower court, or that the verdict was either too small or too large.

The Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.  It documented the extensive testimony from a number of specialists establishing that Bixler's delay in diagnosis caused the fracture to worsen, to be more difficult to treat, and to achieve a poorer outcome.  On that basis, the jury was within its powers to conclude that Bixler's negligence caused economic injury to Taylor by causing his foot injury to achieve a poorer recovery.  It also rejected Bixler's insurer's claim that the verdict should be reduced because Taylor was negligent in falling off a step-ladder.

With regard to the failure to award non-economic damages, the Court concluded that the jury was again within its rights if it concluded that Bixler's negligence did not make the injury more painful or disabling than the original fracture would have been. While, in fact, the jury verdict is inconsistent in awarding only economic damages and NO non-economic damages, it is a recurring theme in our jurisprudence that appellate courts will tolerate compromise outcomes in jury verdicts in order to achieve finality.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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