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INOVA Fairfax Hospital Found Negligent for Surgical Fire; Plaintiff Awarded $5.13 Million (but Will Receive Less Than Half)

All biopsies can be scary because of the uncertainty of what they may uncover. But the procedure itself is routine and rarely causes any issues. This was not the case, however, for Beverly Wilson, who went in for a biopsy in December 2013 and left with second and third-degree burns to her face, neck, shoulder, and back, causing her severe dental injuries.

Wilson filed a malpractice lawsuit against the INOVA Fairfax Hospital shortly thereafter. The suit was reportedly settled one year ago out of court, but due to undisclosed reasons the case was brought before a jury in February 2017. Earlier this month the Fairfax County jury found in favor of Wilson and awarded her a judgement of $5.13 million.

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Her lawyers alleged that the surgeon did not execute a fire risk assessment before using an electric tool to perform the biopsy. If the doctor had followed the operating room guidelines set forth by the hospital, it would have been determined that Wilson’s oxygen mask was still on. A spark from the electric tool hit the oxygen and caused a reaction that set the drapes around her on fire. The flames then spread across her upper body.

Operating room fires are more common than one would think. According to the Joint Commission, a non-profit that accredits health care organizations, up to 650 surgical fires occur “around a patient undergoing a medical or surgical procedure” every year in the United States. But that number could be much higher as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration encourages hospitals to report incidents of operating room fires, but there is no requirement to do so.

After Wilson sustained significant burns while on the operating table, she was rushed to the Washington Hospital Center ICU. But the scars were permanent and she has been receiving treatment, sometimes painful, since the botched biopsy. The $5.13 million judgement handed down by the jury for the damages she suffered in the hospital, her future and past medical expenses, and post-traumatic stress disorder, has finally ended more than three years of litigation. But because of Virginia state law, Wilson will receive less than half of the money. Virginia has a cap on malpractice payouts limiting the total she can receive to $2.1 million.

“Hopefully the verdict will serve to impress upon the legislature that arbitrary caps on compensation in medical malpractice cases are unfair,” said Wilson’s attorney. “What is appropriate is to let the jury decide each individual case, including what is fair compensation for each victim of medical malpractice. All cases are not the same. We hope the jury verdict in this case will serve to improve patient care.”


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