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Legal Malpractice Lawsuit Rewards Paraplegic Girl With $4 Million

October 14, 2013 by The Parrish Law Firm

A case-inside-a-case legal malpractice lawsuit has ended in a $4 million verdict in Richmond Circuit Court for a girl who became paraplegic during a surgery for scoliosis, reports Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

The original medical malpractice lawsuit was the result of scoliosis surgery in July of 2004, when then 13-year-old Sarah Gilbert lost all feeling in her lower body after the surgeon, Dr. Susan E. Atkins, inserted the first of what would have been six hooks on both sides of her spine. The hooks would have held two rods to help straighten her back. The first hook rendered Gilbert a paraplegic, and Atkins stopped the surgery.

Gilbert’s parents decided to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice on behalf of their daughter, and sought counsel from the DC firm of Paulson & Nace PLLC. Lawyers filed the suit in July of 2006, just 4 days before the 2-year statute of limitations was set to expire. However, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gilbert’s parents, and not on behalf of the girl, and so the case was dismissed when the judge ruled the case was filed in the name of the wrong party. By the time the attorneys had changed the plaintiff and filed another lawsuit, it was struck for being untimely, as the statute of limitations was up and no further legal action against the surgeon could take place.

After two years of appeals, Gilbert and her parents came away empty handed, and decided to sue their former lawyers from Paulson & Nace PLLC for legal malpractice. The two-part trial started with Gilbert’s lawyers setting up the legal malpractice case, successfully arguing that a 2003 Virginia Supreme Court case left no confusion as to who should be named as the plaintiff if a medical malpractice suit is filed on behalf of a minor. That case found that “the case has to be filed in the name of the child because the child is the real party in interest.”

During the medical malpractice portion of the lawsuit, attorneys for the plaintiff were able to convince a jury using expert witnesses that the surgeon was negligent when she inserted the first hook, rendering Gilbert paraplegic. Gilbert herself also testified, telling the jury how she is striving to live a normal life even though she’s bound to a wheelchair for life. Having just received a degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech, Gilbert plans to do a Master’s Degree in the hopes of one day doing research on spinal cord injuries.

The jury needed only 90 minutes to administer the $4 million verdict to Gilbert. Defendants may look to get the reward cut down to the medical malpractice cap of $1.75 million, but one can’t help but feel that justice has been served for Gilbert.

Parrish Law Firm, PLLC medical malpractice attorney works with northern Virginia residents who have suffered from another person’s negligence and are looking for fair compensation. Contact us today for a free case consultation, or call us at 703-906-4229.

A representative of Parrish Law Firm, PLLC researched and wrote this article with Mr. Parrish’s consent. If you have any questions regarding the legal implications of what you have just read, please send us your question by clicking here so we can have our attorney review it.

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