One out of ten colonoscopies result in nausea and vomiting; about one in 1000 colonoscopies will accidentally perforate the intestine, with potentially life-threatening side effects if not treated in a timely fashion. Kristen Freeman was one of the unfortunate one in 1000. While she complained of nausea and vomiting, she disregarded the instructions given to her about reporting her other symptoms, and so medical staff treated it like a more common case of nausea. By the time she admitted that her situation and pain was more dire, complications set in, and she suffered cardiopulmonary arrest, which in turn led to severe brain damage.
I won’t quibble with the jury’s assessment of damages of $12 million: Freeman was 33 and is now disabled for life, and in the randomness of noneconomic damages, $12 million isn’t the craziest award out there. But that the Hamilton County, Tennessee jury found gastroenterologist Michael Goodman 51% liable seems arbitrary. If doctors are required to assume that every patient reporting nausea but denying their situation is an emergency might be hiding more serious symptoms, and require them to go to the emergency room for testing (as the plaintiffs’ attorney argued Goodman should have done here), then that’s 100 wasteful emergency room cases for each real case—and not even a prevented case, since most patients follow instructions and report to the ER on their own when symptoms specific to perforation appear.
The article is on the Chattanooga Free Press web site, but the interesting discussion is in the comments, with friends of Freeman and seemingly knowledgeable doctors kibitzing. Freeman’s supporters argue that she did not actually experience any emergency symptoms and thus was not at fault at all. Even if true, that implies that they feel Goodman should be held responsible because he did not anticipate that Freeman was actually having an emergency when she presented asymptomatically: again, a demand for defensive medicine.