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Woman Loses Legs Following Weight Loss Surgery: Malpractice Suite Filed

October 12, 2011

An Illinois woman filed a medical malpractice suite after losing both legs following weight loss surgery. Mary Beth Ruphard underwent bariatric surgery at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois. She chose surgery because, at 278 pounds, and suffering from diabetes and hypertension, she was worried about her health. Weeks after surgery, on Thanksgiving, Ms. Ruphard went back into the hospital complaining of pain and tingling in her legs. She was diagnosed with blood clots in her legs. However, the hospitals did not get a surgeon in to operate on Ms. Ruphard until 36 hours later. By that time, it was too late according to her attorney. As a result, both of Ms. Ruphard's legs had to be amputated. The surgeon who performed the surgery was reportedly furious, stating "[w]hy was I not called earlier?"

As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled many hospital negligence cases including those involving complications from surgery. Of course, anytime a patient undergoes surgery, there are certain risks of the procedure. This includes blood clots in one or more legs. In patients with diabetes, these blood clots can be particularly dangerous in regard to vascular problems and requires even prompter attention.

No doubt, Ms. Ruphard's malpractice attorney will argue the hospitals failed to properly monitor her and timely respond to her symptoms. When a diabetic patient like Ms. Ruphard is diagnosed with a blood clot in her legs after surgery and complains of pain and tingling, that is a warning sign that action must be taken immediately. Here, 36 hours passed before a surgeon was brought in. The fact all this happened on Thanksgiving could explain the delayed response by the hospital. Indeed, if the surgeon who performed the surgery testifies he was upset he was not called earlier by the hospital, this can only help the plaintiff's case. This is particularly true if the surgeon further testifies had he been called in earlier, amputation would not have been required.

The defense will almost certainly deny they did anything wrong. However, this may prove to difficult since a jury will likely recognize the need for prompt action after being educated on the medicine involved in the case. The defense could deflect blame, saying they did everything they could to bring in a surgeon but they could not get anyone in sooner. This may or may not work, depending upon the circumstances.

Another defense the hospital will almost certainly raise is causation. That is, even if we (ie., the hospital) got a surgeon in right away, Ms. Ruphard would have still lost her legs given her advanced vascular compromise, further complicated by her preexisting diabetes. In medical malpractice cases, these types of causation arguments are often the most complicated to understand and, thus, are often the most successful arguments raised by the defense. The defense likes these arguments because they create doubt, uncertainty and confusion in the mind of jurors. If the jury is on the fence about whether proper medical treatment would have changed the outcome, the defense usually wins because the plaintiff has the burden of proof. Here, if Ms. Ruphard cannot prove earlier treatment would have saved her legs from amputation, the defense will likely win the case.

Sources Used:

Mail Online, Woman Loses Both Legs After Undergoing Weight Loss Surgery, September 19, 2011.

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