Baird v. Owczarek – Botched Eye Surgery Plaintiff Will Have Second Chance at Trial

A man who alleges he suffered a vision-threatening corneal disease following negligence by doctors who performed eye surgery on him will have a second chance at trial, the Delaware Supreme Court has ruled.
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In Baird v. Owczarek, the high court determined there were several reversible errors at the trial court level that required the judgment in the defendant’s favor be reversed and the case remanded.

Charlotte injury lawyers know that it’s relatively rare for supreme court justices in any state to reverse the judgment of jury in its entirely, but the circumstances of this case amounted to egregious violations that deprived the plaintiff of a fair trial.

Given the popularity of this particular form of eye surgery, and the risk for this potentially blinding complication to develop, it’s a case that many injury attorneys are closely watching. Even if it doesn’t set a direct precedent for the civil courts here in North Carolina, the legal reasoning could prove effective in helping to build future cases.

This medical malpractice claim stems from a 2004 LASIK surgery, wherein the plaintiff sought vision enhancement from the defendant. Instead, he contends that as a result of the refractive surgery, he developed a condition known as corneal ectasia. It’s a vision-threatening disease of the cornea that is believed to occur in about 1 in every 2,500 patients (according to a 2009 report the Vision Institute). The condition is caused when the cornea’s structural integrity is compromised after essentially being sliced too thin or performed on patients whose corneas are thin to start. The condition typically develops within six months to two years of the surgery.

Today, as awareness of the risk has increased, eye doctors can successfully treat the condition, often restoring one’s vision. However, that assumes the regression is caught in time and treated appropriately. It may also require multiple successive surgeries and possibly even a corneal transplant. Sometimes, the best doctors can do is stop further vision loss.

Here, the plaintiff alleged medical negligence against the doctor not in his performance of the surgeries, but rather inn his determination to conduct them in the first place.

After he withdrew one of his claims regarding lack of informed consent, his attorneys sought the preclusion of his informed consent documents, signed prior to the surgery. The judge denied this request.

Following an eight-day trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant.

However, soon after, one of the jurors immediately contacted the plaintiff counsel and the judge to inform of juror misconduct. Specifically, he alleged that another juror had done internet research on the case during deliberations. The plaintiff moved for a new trial on this basis, though the trial court denied the motion without investigation.

Upon review, the state supreme court ruled this decision improper, particularly in light of the fact that the trial court refused to investigate the impact this alleged research may have had on the jury’s decision.

Further, the high court determined the trial court erred in failing to preclude the informed consent documents following the plaintiff’s withdrawal of that particular claim.

Now, the patient will receive a new shot at trial.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Baird v. Owczarek, May 28, 2014, Delaware Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Spinal Implants Causing Paralysis in Some Patients, April 30, 2014, Charlotte Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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