Michigan Supreme Court denies $20 million award following surgery blunder

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The family of a woman who died after the wrong surgery was performed on her at Oakwood Hospital in 2012 will not receive the $20 million in damages awarded to them.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to reconsider a lower court’s decision based on a technicality that had nothing to do with the surgery.

The Supreme Court issued the order Feb. 7 where six of the seven justices unanimously voted against the reconsideration, saying the case was argued as negligence rather than the required medical malpractice with a cap on any financial reward. Justice Kurtis Wilder did not participate in the vote.

Bimla Nayyar, 81, of Belleville, died in January 2012 after surgeons at Oakwood — now Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn — mistakenly operated on her skull when she was admitted for a dislocated jaw. She spent 60 days on life support before dying.

The mixup occurred when Nayyar’s name was on the x-ray records of another patient who was scheduled for the brain surgery.

“They drilled five holes into her skull with a drill,” family’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, told Fox 2 News in 2015. “They sawed the right side of her skull out of her head and poked her on her brain, realized she’s not the patient they thought that she was, and after that she couldn’t breathe on her own.”

In the court order, Chief Justice Stephen Markman said the court will uphold the court of appeals decision.

“I concur in this Court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration because the Court of Appeals correctly held that plaintiff’s prior stipulation to the dismissal of his negligence claim with prejudice precluded any recovery on that claim at a subsequent trial under the collateral attack rule and collateral estoppel,” Markman wrote. “Yet the decedent’s husband’s plaintive inquiry nonetheless resonates loudly: ‘How is (this) possible in a just and fair world . . . ?’ There is no satisfactory answer, in my judgment, only that further review of this matter might well be pursued in an appropriate action.”

Nayyar’s family filed the first lawsuit claiming ordinary negligence, but the claim was dismissed by trial court. The family refiled the lawsuit as a medical malpractice action, according to the Michigan Supreme Court order.

“The hospital conceded negligence so that the case proceeded to a jury only on the issues of causation of death and damages,” the order also said.

During the second trial, Feiger’s law firm proceeded with the case as ordinary negligence, and they, “convinced the second trial court to enter a judgment that was unmoored from the statutory cap on damages applicable to a medical malpractice action,” the order read.

The jury then awarded the family $20 million in damages in 2015. Following the verdict, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, ruling the family’s attorneys did not argue medical malpractice with an uncapped financial award during the jury trial.

“To summarize, plaintiff now has no negligence claim and no medical malpractice claim, all despite the fact that (a) defendant-hospital openly admitted negligence, (b) a jury determined that this negligence constituted the proximate cause of plaintiff’s death, and (c) a jury awarded plaintiff a $20 million verdict,” Markman said.

Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn released a statement that read, “When this regrettable situation occurred in 2012, Oakwood Hospital accepted responsibility and disclosed it to the family. We offered them a financial settlement, which was rejected by their legal counsel. We respect yesterday’s ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court in this case.”

Phone calls to Feiger’s office were not returned by press time.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)