Team doctors of major sports teams are often considered among the best in their local community. However, as has been proven many times, even top doctors are capable of medical mistakes. Last week, Dr. David Chao, team physician for the San Diego Chargers, was found guilty of medical malpractice in connection with a frostbite injury from a cold-therapy device he prescribed.
Before the medical malpractice trial began, Dr. Chao had been sued at least five times for tissue and nerve related injuries after ordering that his patients use the same type of cold-therapy device called Polar Care. Cold therapy systems are often prescribed by orthopedic surgeons to minimize swelling and reduce pain. The devices typically consist of a cooler, cold pack, and tubs which allows very cold water to circulate from the tubes into the cold pack that is applied to the body part. If the pack is too cold and/or used for too long, permanent tissue and nerve injuries can result.
Before reaching their verdict, the jury heard testimony from the plaintiff, Whitney Engler, who underwent knee surgery nine years earlier. To speed up recovery, Dr. Chao ordered that Engler use a Polar Care 500 by applying the device to her knee. Shortly thereafter, Engler was diagnosed with frostbite which allegedly led to permanent injuries to her knee area. These injuries required numerous reconstructive surgeries.
In addition to suing Dr. Choa, Engler also sued the manufacturer of the col-therapy device, Berg Internationally. The product liability claim against berg alleged the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous. Ultimately, the jury found both defendants negligent and awarded Ms. Engler $5.2 million in compensatory damages and, later, $7.5 million in punitive damages.
U-T San Diego, Chargers Team Doctor Loses Malpractice Suit, July 27, 2012.
NBC San Diego, Jury Awards $7.5 In Damages In Polar Care Lawsuit, July 31, 2012.