Dale v. Kirksville Anesthesia Associates, P.C., Theresa T. Rickelman, D.O., Kelly D. Burchett, D.O., Kelly D. Burchett, D.O., LLC, and Charlotte Cowan, C.R.N.A., – Adair County, Missouri (Kirksville)
On January 3, 2008, the Plaintiff, Mrs. Dale, a 76 year old woman at the time, suffered second degree burns to her face following an operating room fire that occurred while two basil cell carcinomas were being surgically removed from her face. The Plaintiff was a lifelong smoker and had been diagnosed with COPD, which necessitated the need for a monitored anesthetic care (MAC) procedure during the surgery, meaning that she was heavily sedated.
Terry Evans and Sheri Smiley represented Kirksville Anesthesia Associates, P.C., Dr. Theresa T. Rickelman and Nurse Charlotte Cowan. Dr. Kelly Burchett was represented by another firm. The fire occurred when the surgeon, Dr. Burchett, used the cautery while oxygen was flowing at a high rate through the nasal cannula. Dr. Rickelman, the anesthesiologist in the operating room was also serving as the on call anesthesiologist at the hospital. She had just relieved Charlotte Cowan, CRNA, and had only been in the operating room for a few minutes before she received a page. She could reach the phone from the operating room table by taking a few steps away from the table. She turned towards the patient while talking to the nurse who had paged her, turned back and hung up the phone and when she turned back towards the Plaintiff saw a flash. She immediately lunged and turned off the oxygen. The flash fire lasted less than one second and was immediately put out by Dr. Burchett.
Plaintiff had first and second degree burns on her face as a result of the flash fire. She did not suffer from any permanent injuries, and had been retired for several years prior to the surgery so she did not claim any lost income.
Prior to the trial Nurse Cowan was dismissed as a party after filing a Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff played the video depositions of their two experts, who were a general surgeon and an anesthesiologist. Both experts testified that there had been negligence in the operating room by both doctors in that they failed to communicate with each other. The defense also presented a general surgeon and an anesthesiologist as experts. The defense argued that the fire was a complication from the MAC procedure which was exacerbated by the Plaintiff’s COPD and need for extra oxygen. The defense also argued that the plaintiff’s injuries had healed and she did not need any future treatment due to the operating room fire.
Prior to trial the Plaintiff’s attorneys made a written demand for $50,000.00 and asked the jury during closing arguments for $250,000.00 in damages including pain and suffering. The parties had stipulated that the total of the medical bills was $646.52.
The jury entered a favorable defense verdict, awarding the Plaintiff $650.00 in economic damages and $5,000.00 in non-economic damages, with one half to be assessed against Dr. Rickelman and one half to be assessed against Dr. Burchett.