Verdict against doctor who delayed surgery is upheld
Myriam Velez obtained a verdict against Dr. Martin Tuma after he inexplicably delayed surgery to alleviate a blood clot in her leg. Velez presented expert testimony that Tuma should have operated immediately upon determining the cause of Velez's complaints, and that she lost her leg because of his unjustified 36-hour delay. Tuma's insurer presented all manner of procedural and technical obstacles and objections to the lawsuit and eventual judgment, and after eight years of litigation, the Court of Appeals rejected each and every one.
The case was originally filed in 2001, and several of the named Defendants, including Detroit Receiving Hospital, compromised and settled with Velez after Case Evaluation, paying just under $200,000.00 in compensation. Defendant Tuma and his insurer rejected the case evaluation and settlement, however, and insisted on a jury trial. That turned out to be a mistake, as the jury ultimately awarded Velez almost $1.5 million dollars. The latter amount was reduced by the "cap" on malpractice damages to about $300,000.00, and the insurer raised every technical loophole its attorneys could devise, in an attempt to avoid or further diminish the payment to Velez.
For example, Tuma's insurer argued that it should not be obligated to pay case evaluation sanctions, because no case evaluation had been conducted in the second phase of litigation involving only Tuma---even though it had prevented the latter case evaluation by arguing it was redundant and unnecessary because the first case evaluation should govern. Needless to say, the Court made quick work of this argument.
The Court also rejected the claim that Velez should not collect interest on her unpaid past damages, because the judgment should be limited to the cap amount, and the cap amount should be divided proportionally between past and future damages. The Court noted that by the straightforward statutory language, past damages are included in a judgment before future damages are considered, and that interest should be paid on the full amount of past-due damages.
The Court also addressed the insurer's complicated argument suggesting that Velez did not prove a recoverable "loss of opportunity for a better outcome." It noted that this was a straightforward malpractice claim, according to the Plaintiff's expert standard of care and causation testimony accepted by the jury: if the doctor had operated on the leg when he should have, she enjoyed a seventy or eighty percent probability of saving her leg. Tuma's negligence in not operating "caused" her injury (the loss of the leg).