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Jury agrees with Frederick surgeon over spine operation

After two years of litigation, a federal court jury has found a Frederick spine surgeon not negligent in his treatment of a West Virginia woman, who claimed in a $750,000 lawsuit that he had operated on the wrong spinal section, leaving her with severe and chronic back pain.

The U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore rendered its decision in Dr. Ravi Yalamanchili’s favor after a five-day trial and one hour of deliberation last month.

In her lawsuit, Cristy Lee Ripple claimed that Yalamanchili performed surgery on a certain level of her spine on Oct. 27, 2007, though pre-operative tests indicated her persistent back problems were caused by a problem at the neighboring level. When the pain continued, Yalamanchili operated on the wrong level again on Oct. 31, 2007, according to the complaint.

Ripple said she discovered Yalamanchili’s alleged error when she went to another doctor two months later, still suffering from back pain, according to her complaint.

Yalamanchili breached the standard of medical care by failing “to properly perform surgery at the proper level” and then either lied to her about his mistake or negligently failed “to recognize his error and deliberately or negligently” failed to correct her chart, stated the complaint filed Nov. 16, 2011. As a result of the doctor’s treatment, Ripple has suffered “excruciating pain, discomfort [and] emotional anguish … and will continue to suffer temporary and permanent injury to her body,” the complaint added.

But Yalamanchili’s attorney said Friday that the doctor provided “excellent” care to Ripple, as shown by expert medical testimony at trial as well as a post-operative Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan.

“We were able to show through the medical records and especially in the MRI post-operatively … that it was not the wrong level” at which Yalamanchili operated, added Frederick W. Goundry III, of Varner & Goundry P.C. in Frederick.

Before filing suit, Ripple submitted a timely claim in the Maryland Health Care Alternative Resolution Office on Sept. 24, 2010. She decided to waive arbitration in favor of filing the lawsuit.

Though the lawsuit alleged violations of Maryland law, the federal court had jurisdiction to hear the claim because the Maryland doctor and West Virginia patient were from different states and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.

A. Richard Thursey, Ripple’s original attorney, said several considerations went into the decision to file in Baltimore federal court rather than in Frederick County Circuit Court, including the widely held belief that jurors in Western Maryland counties are less likely to rule against doctors.

“Baltimore City and surrounding counties might not be as doctor friendly, or would be more understanding of plaintiffs harmed by a doctor’s malpractice,” added Thursey, a Reston, Va., solo practitioner.

But he said juries are always unpredictable.

“You can’t make generalities,” he said.

Goundry, who defends doctors in malpractice cases, also cautioned plaintiffs’ attorneys against choosing a federal over a state court based on perceived jury preferences.

“Whoever ends up on that jury is what matters,” he said. “It’s a roll of the dice on who ends up being on that jury.”

Ripple’s trial counsel, Paul Lee Warren, declined to comment. Warren is with Warren & Associates PLC in Norfolk, Va.

CRISTY LEE RIPPLE V. RAVI YALAMANCHILI, M.D.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:11-cv-03279-WDQ

Judge:

William D. Quarles Jr.

Outcome:

Defense Verdict

Dates:

Event: October 2007

Suit filed: Nov. 16, 2011

Trial: Nov. 18, 2013-Nov. 22, 2012

Jury Verdict: Nov. 22, 2012

Plaintiff’s Attorneys:

A. Richard Thursey of Thursey Law Firm PLLC in Reston, Va., and Paul Lee Warren of Warren & Associates PLC in Norfolk, Va.

Defendant’s Attorney:

Frederick W. Goundry III of Varner & Goundry P.C. in Frederick.

Count:

Negligence