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Oops! Anesthesiologist Ordered to Pay Half a Million Dollars for Insulting Man Under Sedation

Patient catches remarks on smartphone

Sitting in his surgical gown, a Vienna, Virginia, man prepared for his colonoscopy by pressing “record” on his smartphone, to capture the instructions his doctor would give him after the procedure.

But when he pressed “play” on his way home, he found that he had recorded the entire examination and that the surgical team had mocked and insulted him as soon as he drifted off to sleep.

In addition to their unflattering commentary, the doctors discussed avoiding the man after the colonoscopy, instructed an assistant to lie to him, and then placed a false diagnosis on his chart, according to an article in the Washington Post.

“After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op, I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit,” the anesthesiologist, Dr. Tiffany Ingham, was recorded as saying.

When a medical assistant noted the man had a rash on his penis, Ingham warned her not to touch it, saying she might get “some syphilis on your arm or something,” and then added: “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.”

There was much more, so the man sued the doctors and their practices for defamation and medical malpractice and, last week, after a 3-day trial, a Fairfax County jury ordered the anesthesiologist and her practice to pay him $500,000 –– $100,000 for defamation ($50,000 each for the comments about the man having syphilis and tuberculosis) and $200,000 for medical malpractice, as well as $200,000 in punitive damages.

 On the opening day of the trial, the gastroenterologist who performed the colonoscopy, Dr. Soloman Shah, was dismissed from the case. Court documents stated, however, that Shah had also made some insulting remarks and did not discourage Ingham from her comments or actions, which included writing on the man’s chart that he had hemorrhoids when he did not.

“These types of conversations,” testified Dr. Kathryn McGoldrick, former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology, “are not only offensive but frankly stupid, because we can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn’t have recall.”

One of the jurors told the Post that “there was not much defense, because everything was on tape.” He said that the man’s attorneys asked for $1.75 million and that the $500,000 award was a compromise between one juror who thought the man deserved nothing and at least one who thought he deserved more.

The colonoscopy took place in Shah’s surgical suite in April 2013, according to the man’s lawsuit. Because he was going to be fully anesthetized, the man decided to turn on his cellphone’s audio recorder before the procedure so that it would capture the doctor’s post-operation instructions, the suit stated. But the man’s phone, in his pants, was placed beneath him under the operating table and inadvertently recorded the audio of the entire procedure, court records showed.

Source: Washington Post; June 23, 2015.


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