A doctor and his employer prevailed against a nearly $20 million negligence lawsuit filed by a 71-year-old woman, who blamed the doctor for not investigating her existing spinal cord impingement before she woke up from lumbar surgery unable to move her limbs.
In 2010, Patricia Adcox had an MRI of her neck to determine the cause of neck pain and arm numbness that revealed severe stenosis and spinal cord impingement.
In 2015, she went to Dr. Keith Wilkey to treat low back pain radiating into her legs. He was not aware of the past MRI, but his own MRI of her lumbar spine revealed degenerative arthritis and stenosis.
Conservative treatment failed to alleviate her symptoms, so Wilkey performed lumbar surgery for decompression and fusion of the spine later that year. Adcox woke up from the surgery unable to move her arms or legs. An MRI of her cervical spine revealed she had severe stenosis resulting in spinal cord impingement.
The next day, Wilkey performed surgery on the cervical spine to decompress the spinal cord. Adcox did not recover, and an exploratory lumbar surgery soon after ruled out other possible causes of her continued symptoms.
Adcox regained use and strength above the waist but not below. She is wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life.
Adcox sued Wilkey and his office, Orthopedic Associates, in 2016 for negligence, claiming Wilkey should have performed an MRI of her neck before the lumbar surgery that would have revealed the pre-existing spinal cord impingement and led to neck surgery before the lower back surgery. Brent Sumner, representing Adcox, noted the insurance company and defense team’s disinterest in settlement or mediation.
“We knew this was a potential outcome,” Sumner said. “They didn’t want to offer any money [before trial].”
All experts testifying in the case agreed Adcox’s cervical spine documented in 2010 was in the exact same state as it was in 2015.
Adcox claimed Wilkey’s X-ray of her entire spine revealed severe degenerative arthritis in her cervical spine that should have led him to investigate her neck. Justin Hardin of Brown & James, who represented Wilkey and the doctor’s office, said the standard of care did not lead to an MRI of her neck because she did not report neck pain during her time in his care.
“Without any cervical complaints, there wasn’t anything further for the doctor to do,” Hardin said.
Hardin noted Adcox’s family members’ testimony about her required care made for a tough case before a jury. Adcox’s attorney team also tried to prove Wilkey’s untrustworthiness by bringing up a license discipline matter in another state and the nature of his unrelated departure from Orthopedic Associates.
The case was submitted to the jury at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, a Friday, and tied 6-6 on the decision until 10:15 p.m. The jury requested Wilkey’s post-operative notes and his interrogatory answers. The following Monday, the jury continued until 11:30 a.m. before delivering their verdict on behalf of the defendants.
Venue: St. Louis County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 16SL-CC04326/Nov. 7, 2022
Judge: Nancy Watkins McLaughlin
Plaintiff’s Experts: Richard Wohns, Seattle, Washington (neurosurgery); Jan Klosterman, St. Louis (life care planning)
Defendants’ Experts: William Reed, Kansas City (orthopedic surgery); Constantine Rapis, St. Louis (radiology); Steven Steins, Seattle, Washington (physical medicine and rehabilitation); Michael Lasky, St. Louis (anesthesia)
Special Damages: $10,000,000 million for future noneconomic damages, $7,000,000 million for past noneconomic damages, $2,600,000 million for future medical expenses, $149,000 for past medical expenses
Last Pretrial Demand: $20,000,000
Last Pretrial Offer: None
Caption: Patricia Adcox v. Orthopedic Associates LLC and Dr. Keith Wilkey
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Eugene Fahrenkrog Jr., Brent Sumner, John Greffet, Lindsay Rakers and Andrew Martin, The Sumner Law Group, Clayton
Defendants’ Attorneys: Justin Hardin and Philip Willman, Brown & James, St. Louis