$300,000 Settlement for Air Force Veteran Who Underwent Spinal Surgery

Rawls Law Group is pleased to announce that we have recovered a $300,000 settlement for our client, an Air Force veteran, who underwent spinal surgery at the Southern Arizona VA hospital.


The veteran, who had a history of underlying back pain and a previous back surgery, underwent a lumbar laminectomy with spinal instrumentation at L4-L5. The surgery was performed due to evidence of a degenerated disk at L4-5 with a change in angulation at L4-5 with lumbar canal stenosis and was purported to go without complication. Afterwards, though, our client awoke from surgery with a newly acquired foot drop, and a postoperative CT was notable for misplaced L4-5 pedicle screws. Initially, the VA surgeon seemed to appreciate the nature of the situation and had planned for a revision procedure in order to address the problem. That is, until the doctor changed his mind and, instead, advocated for physical therapy and an AFO brace. Thereafter, our client was discharged home with loose, misplaced pedicle screws in his lumbar spine, as well as significantly elevated white blood cells, concerning for infection.


Despite these issues, the veterans VA healthcare providers failed to perform the necessary revision surgery and failed to recognize and/or appreciate the underlying infection. Unfortunately, after several months of no additional treatment, our client was transported to the VA Emergency Department due to severe back pain and inability to walk and was admitted for further evaluation and treatment of sepsis, bacteremia from infected hardware, intractable back pain secondary to loose hardware, and tachycardia. He was then subsequently transferred to a private hospital, where he was promptly evaluated by neurosurgery and scheduled for immediate surgery. This procedure went without complication but, unfortunately, failed to relieve his foot drop.


What’s not surprising about all of this is that our client was informed afterward by the private surgeon that his left foot drop had been caused by a screw having been placed directly on the nerve and that the screws were so loose they could be removed by hand. Sadly, though, despite considerable efforts in post-operative physical therapy, our client continues to suffer from the left foot drop.


Of course, there are known risks and complications involved with any surgery, and foot drop following back surgery is in that category. However, the VA surgeon’s decision to leave misplaced and loose hardware in our client’s spine with hopes that the injury would resolve – and the procedure take, successfully – was inexcusable. A postoperative CT revealed the root cause of our client’s foot drop, yet the VA failed to intervene. Had the VA proceeded with the initial, appropriate plan of revising the procedure immediately, the root cause of the foot drop would have been discovered and presumably addressed. This would have at least afforded our client the opportunity to regain some (if not all) mobility in his left foot. Instead, though, his injury is now permanent and affects him daily.


Our client underwent the initial surgery in hopes of relieving some of his back pain and having a chance of returning to some sense of normal life, and his VA doctors told him that this surgery was his best option for achieving that desire. Unfortunately, though, he woke up worse off than he was before.


We pursued this veteran’s FTCA medical malpractice tort claim through the administrative claims process. Fortunately, the VA recognized their mistake and made us an opening offer. After some negotiating, we were able to get resolve our client’s claim without having to resort to litigation.