Case details

Patient: Surgical error during hip replacement caused foot drop





Result type

Not present

nerve, neurological
On July 12, 2012, plaintiff Judith Fritz, 68, a retired nurse, underwent a left hip replacement (arthroplasty) performed by Dr. Michael Oberto, an orthopedic surgeon, at Fresno Surgical Hospital. On the operative note, it was determined that a retractor partially impaled Fritz’s left sciatic nerve. As a result, Fritz suffered permanent damage to the peroneal nerve, causing a left foot drop. Fritz sued Oberto and the hospital’s operator, Fresno Surgery Center, LP. Fritz alleged Oberto failed to properly perform the arthroplastic surgery and that this failure constituted medical malpractice. Fresno Surgery Center filed a motion for summary judgment that went unopposed, and the hospital was dismissed from the case. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial against Oberto only. Fritz’s counsel contended that Oberto negligently placed the retractor on her left sciatic nerve during the initial placement of the arthroplasty, causing it to impale the sciatic nerve, as noted on the operative note. Counsel also contended that Oberto’s negligent surgical error was outside the standard of care, causing Fritz permanent nerve damage and drop foot. Oberto claimed that he did not place the retractor on Fritz’s left sciatic nerve and, rather, the retractor migrated afterward, causing it to snag the nerve. Defense counsel argued that the migration of a retractor was a rare but, nevertheless, known risk of the surgery, which occurred outside of any negligence. Thus, counsel argued that Oberto’s actions fell within the standard of care., Fritz claimed that as a result of the retractor impaling her sciatic nerve, she suffered permanent nerve damage to her peroneal nerve, which was inoperable. However, she attempted to treat her injury with physical therapy and neurological visits. Fritz claimed that the nerve damage caused her to suffer left drop foot, as well as nerve paralysis with loss of dorsiflexion and eversion. Fritz claimed that her mobility is now drastically limited and that she experiences occasional pain. She alleged that her nerve injury, combined with her pre-existing post-polio syndrome, causes her to now require double braces and a cane to ambulate. Thus, Fritz claimed her condition puts her at an increased risk for trips and falls, and that she can no longer take long walks or walks on the beach as a result. Fritz claimed roughly $14,000 in past medical costs. She also sought recovery of damages for her future medical costs, which include treatment and ambulating devices; for her other damages, which include home modification and an aide to assist her with chores; and for her past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel did not call his damages experts at trial.
Superior Court of Fresno County, Fresno, CA

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