DALLAS — A Dallas jury on Monday awarded a more than $21 million judgment against an anesthesiologist and certified registered nurse anesthetist for the catastrophic injury of a 27-year-old patient during surgery for a broken leg more than five years ago.
Carlos David Castro Rojas went into surgery at Baylor University Medical Center on Oct. 11, 2017, for repair of a shin fracture, according to the lawsuit. During surgery, Rojas was put under general anesthesia and suffered a brain injury due to a severe lack of oxygen to his brain, the lawsuit alleged.
Since the surgery, Rojas, now 32, has remained in a vegetative state for the past five years, unable to communicate or interact meaningfully or perform basic human functions, such as feeding himself, according to the pleadings and family’s attorneys.
A Dallas County Court at Law No. 5 jury awarded the verdict following a two-week trial.
Baylor University Medical Center settled out with the Rojas family for an undisclosed amount prior to trial, family attorneys told WFAA.
The lawsuit alleged Rojas was told that the certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA, would provide anesthesia, and was “not told” that “a more qualified anesthesiologist was available and an option for him.”
Despite written policies by U.S. Anesthesia Partners, the suit alleged, Rojas was not informed that he had “the right to choose” whether to have an anesthesiologist or CRNA.
“…No one explained to Carlos that there was a difference between providers or their qualifications,” the suit says. “Instead, they only provide patients with the patient’s choice to have an anesthesiologist if the patient knows enough to object to a CRNA and insist on an anesthesiologist,” the suit alleged.
The suit claimed it was “more financially lucrative” for Baylor University Medical Center and U.S. Anesthesia Partners to have CRNAs perform the work, “saving costs and not having to pay for more expensive anesthesiologists for each procedure. Thus, in order to make more money, USAP and BUMC keep patients in the dark and place patients at greater risk by pushing the CRNA model on patients.”
“You, as a patient, always have the choice,” said Brent Walker, one of the family’s attorneys. “But unless you know you have the choice, you don’t ask.”
Family attorneys told WFAA that during Rojas’s surgery, an anesthesiologist supervised his CRNA, along with three other CRNAs, each in different operating rooms.
“The jury sent a message to US Anesthesia Partners and their doctors that allowing one anesthesiologist to supervise multiple CRNAs at the same time may be good for business but it’s not good for the safety of patients,” said Bruce Steckler, one of the family’s attorneys. “The consequences can be tragic.”
“It is very hard for an anesthesiologist to supervise four CRNAs at same time,” added attorney Walker.
According to the suit, Rojas remains “unable to walk or talk, is incontinent of bowel and bladder, and has the mental status of a young child. For the rest of his life, he will require 24-hour care. He will never be self-sufficient…He will be locked in a profoundly agitated, confused, and impaired state for the rest of his natural life.”
Walker told WFAA Rojas’ mother, Wilda, has moved to Dallas to help care for her incapacitated son at a nursing home.
“Her son gets super agitated if any else enters the room,” Walker said. “So, she has to treat him. She changes his clothes, his diapers, his bedding.”
Walker said $8 million of the $21 million award has been allocated for care for Rojas.
“Hopefully she can get some help to put Carlos in a comfortable place,” Walker said.
Steckler, Walker and his law partner Charla Aldous, represented the Rojas family during the trial.
WFAA has reached out to the lawyers for US Anesthesia Partners for comment. We will update this story when we hear back.