Woman with chronic pain awarded $4 million by jury

Doctor accused of delay in ordering back surgery

January 16, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

After 10 days of testimony and less than two hours of deliberations, a Baltimore County jury awarded $4 million this week to a 35-year-old woman who said she has suffered chronic pain and partial paralysis since 1998 because a doctor in Fallston General Hospital's emergency room delayed sending her for back surgery.

Linda McAlexander, a Harford County resident who worked as a real estate loan processor, had an established diagnosis of lumbar disc disease when she went to the emergency room in June 1998. She said that Dr. Peter Sitaras, a neurosurgeon, should have recognized the emergency nature of her symptoms - a significant increase in pain and numbness, followed by an inability to move her left leg and an inability to urinate - and should have sent her for surgery immediately.

Instead, it took nearly 24 hours for McAlexander to go into surgery. That delay, her attorneys said, caused permanent injury.

Attorney Thomas C. Morrow, who represented Sitaras, said yesterday his client "did not deviate from the standard of care" in his treatment of McAlexander, and that while the woman's lasting conditions were unfortunate, they were not the doctor's fault.

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it's nobody's fault," he said.

But attorney Kathleen Howard Meredith said that because of the doctor's lack of judgment, her client must take narcotic painkillers daily for chronic pain. It was Sitaras' inaction, she said, that caused the permanent nerve damage that paralyzed McAlexander's lower extremities and caused ulcers to develop on the bottom of her feet. And, she said, her client still lacks normal bowel and bladder function.

"She just has this whole constellation of problems that has resulted in her being hospitalized five times in the last five years," Meredith said.

On Monday, jurors in Baltimore County Circuit Court designated $100,000 in damages for McAlexander's past medical expenses, $700,000 for future medical expenses and approximately $1 million in lost wages. They awarded her $2.2 million for emotional pain and suffering, but that amount will be automatically reduced to $620,000 because of Maryland's limits on non-economic damages.

A Baltimore County medical group that was a co-defendant in the case settled with McAlexander before trial. Settlement details were not made public.

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