Missed Diagnosis Leads to $111 Million Award for Damaged Leg

A federal jury recently awarded more than $100 million to a college student whose left leg was permanently damaged as the result of care he received after a sports injury, according to a story from WCCO CBS Minnesota, among other news outlets. The award has been called the largest judgment of its kind in Minnesota history.

In January 2017, Nepalese immigrant Anuj Thapa was playing in an indoor soccer game at St. Cloud State University when another player tackled him. His left leg badly injured, Thapa was taken by ambulance to CentraCare’s St. Cloud Hospital. The orthopedic surgeon on call that day was Chad Holien, MD, who is affiliated with St. Cloud Orthopedics, a private clinic in nearby Sartell, Minnesota. Following preparations, and with the help of a physician assistant, Holien operated on the patient’s broken leg.

But Thapa experienced post-surgical complications — severe pain, numbness, burning, and muscle issues. Despite the complications, he was discharged from the hospital that afternoon and sent home.

Six days later, Thapa returned to St. Cloud Hospital, still complaining of severe pain. A second orthopedic surgeon operated and found that Thapa had “acute compartment syndrome,” the result of internal pressure that had built up in his leg muscles.

Over time, Thapa underwent more than 20 surgeries on his leg to deal with the ongoing pain and other complications, according to WCCO.

In 2019, he filed a medical malpractice suit in US district court against St. Cloud Orthopedics, the private practice that employed the surgeon and the PA. (Under Minnesota law, an employer is responsible for the actions of its employees.)

In his complaint, Thapa alleged that in treating him “the defendants departed from accepted standards of medical practice.” Among other things, he claimed that Holien and the PA had not properly evaluated his postoperative symptoms, failed to diagnose and treat his compartment syndrome, and improperly discharged him from the hospital. These lapses, Thapa said, led to his “severe, permanent, and disabling injuries.”

The federal jury agreed. After a weeklong trial, it awarded the plaintiff $100 million for future “pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment, and emotional distress.” It also gave him $10 million for past suffering and a little more than $1 million for past and future medical bills.

In a postverdict statement, Thapa’s attorney said that, while the surgeon and PA are undoubtedly good providers, they made mistakes in this case.

A defense attorney for St. Cloud Orthopedics disputes this: “We maintain the care provided in this case was in accordance with accepted standards of care.”

At press time, the defense had not determined whether to appeal the jury’s $111 million verdict. “St. Cloud continues to support its providers,” said the clinic’s defense attorney. “We are evaluating our options regarding this verdict.”

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA, is an independent journalist based in Mahwah, New Jersey.

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