A Hawaii medical malpractice case arising from a 2001 spinal surgery made headlines and exposed the dangers patients face when medical professionals are negligent or reckless in their duties. The surgeon, Dr. Robert Ricketson, was performing a spinal surgery on a 73-year-old patient when he discovered that the titanium rods required for completion of the surgery were missing. Weighing the risks of waiting for the proper equipment to arrive, Ricketson took the unprecedented step of fashioning a surgical screwdriver into a replacement for the missing parts, and implanted this improvised device into the patient.
Days later, the screwdriver piece snapped and the patient underwent additional surgeries to correct the original problem and the resulting complications. The patient was ultimately rendered paraplegic and died two years later. The family sued and was awarded millions in compensatory and punitive damages. Both Ricketson and the hospital that employed him and where the surgery was performed were found to be liable.
Following the lawsuit, Ricketson, who had represented himself in the trial, blogged about the incident, claiming he was unfairly blamed, despite the verdict and public outrage against him. Ricketson lashed out against other parties, including a different hospital that had performed follow-up surgeries, the patient and his caretakers and members of Ricketson’s own medical team. He singled out a nurse who had retrieved the fractured pieces of the screwdriver in the follow-up surgery and delivered them to an attorney on behalf of the family, rather than see the evidence discarded.
The specifics of the Ricketson case may be unusual, but the doctor’s actions and reaction to the case illustrate the severe consequences when a medical professional is negligent. Ricketson’s aggressive defense of his egregious actions are a sad commentary on the lengths a doctor may go to proclaim his innocence ¾ no matter how much evidence exists to counter his claims.