Nevada Legislature Takes Away Jury Award for Severely Injured Former UNLV Linebacker

09/14/2015 | Medical Malpractice

Former UNLV line backer, Beau Orth, filed a lawsuit against a neurosurgeon who negligently performed a spine surgery on him, ending his football career.  The young man won the lawsuit when a Las Vegas jury awarded $4.2 million.   The jury determined the surgeon, Dr. Albert Capanna, was negligent when he operated on the wrong spot on Orth’s back.  A once-healthy disc was damaged and the surgeon failed to repair the injured disc he was supposed to operate on.  Complications from the surgery have caused Orth’s spine to rapidly degenerate and he will require at least two spinal fusion surgeries before he is 50.  Those surgeries will cost just under $800,000.  $3.8 million was awarded for paint and suffering.

Nevada, like a growing number of states, enacted tort reform in 2002.  Tort reform refers to laws enacted to limit injured citizens’ rights to file lawsuits and recover money damages for their injuries.  In 2002 Nevada enacted tort reform legislation which capped pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases to $350,000.  This means the verdict the jury rendered is essentially null and void and Orth, who has suffered an excruciating spinal injury and lost his football career, will not be compensated the $3.8 million the jury awarded; he will be compensated the $350,000 the legislature of Nevada arbitrarily selected in 2002.  Plus, the jury awarded $400,000 for medical expenses - half of what his future surgeries will cost. 

In 2008 a Nevada oncologist who had spearheaded the tort reform movement in Nevada, Arnold Wax, wrote an article recounting his regret.  Dr. Wax served as an expert witness for a patient whose pathologist had admittedly misread her slide.  She had melanoma.  The jury did not return a verdict against the pathologist, much to Dr. Wax's surprise, because they reasoned he had not acted maliciously in misreading the slide.  (The standard for medical negligence is not malice) The jury thought if they returned an award against the pathologist he might leave the state.  During that election season in Nevada ads ran (pro tort reform) describing doctors who were leaving Nevada because of its "malpractice crisis."  Dr. Wax concluded his article admitting he had not fully considered the consequences to the lives of patients who suffered legitimate injuries that tort reform would have.  I suspect most proponents of tort reform do not. 

The Poppe Law Firm handles cases for people injured by medical negligence.  Kentucky has not yet enacted tort reform but it is at the top of the Republican agenda each legislative session.