Michael Brassloff, retired from a career as a teacher and principal in Philadelphia, had a tumor that was growing in his head. He seemed fine, he had no symptoms. But there was a fear that if the tumor grew much larger – and it may not have -- it could have pressed against his brain and caused cognitive issues such as confusion and memory loss. Brassloff could have chosen to wait and see if symptoms developed, but he decided to proceed with surgery to remove the tumor. From that point, however, problems would occur. Serious problems.
Michael Brassloff’s case was one that would exemplify what happens when a defective medical device is employed by a careless surgeon. The short answer was that Brassloff was left a shadow of the once exuberant tennis player and marathon runner who was a delight to be with, who was the center and spark of an adoring family.
The problems began even before the actual surgery, when the neurosurgeon, Dr. Kevin Judy, failed to obtain proper informed consent from Brassloff. He didn’t tell Brassloff and his wife, Mona, that the surgery was relatively new and part of a study. He planned to use a Neuroblate 2.2 mm Sidefire, a laser-like probe manufactured by Monteris Medical Inc. Nor did Dr. Judy mention that he had done the operation only once before.
The incident itself – a combined case of product liability and medical malpractice -- began at 8:07 on the morning of Oct. 18, 2015, when Brassloff was wheeled into an operating room at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. After the surgery began, the neuroblate’s software sounded an alert that something was wrong and that the surgery should be halted. But the doctor ignored the warnings and plowed ahead with the operation.
Dr. Judy did not stop to have an MRI performed to see what was going on, which was that the tip of the neuroblate had broken off, releasing pressurized carbon monoxide in the patient’s brain. Later investigation revealed that the surgeon also evidently had failed to properly insert the neuroblate nor had he elected to use a heavier, more robust model of the probe, decisions that may have prevented the problem.
Brassloff lapsed into a coma. He did awaken, but with severe and permanent brain damage. Six years later, he still suffers the effects -- difficulty with balance, walking, dexterity, emotional stability, and word choice, barely talking and when he does, sometimes blurting out angry words that he doesn’t mean. He has developed a seizure disorder as well as Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
But Brassloff was well enough to recently attend a civil trial, albeit confined to a wheelchair and with great assistance. The trial lasted two weeks and a jury deliberated into a second day before delivering a unanimous $9.7 million verdict, finding that the neuroblate model was indeed defective – a fact that neither side contested since the device had been recalled – and finding Dr. Judy negligent and the hospital responsible as well.
The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury found Dr. Judy 43 percent liable, or for nearly $4.2 million, and Jefferson 15 percent liable, or for almost $1.5 million. It assessed Monteris 42 percent of the award, or about $4.1 million, but the company had previously agreed to a $12.75 settlement in the case.
Co-lead attorneys for the Brassloffs, Shanin Specter and Kila Baldwin, of Kline & Specter, PC, recognized that the verdict could never compensate Michael or Mona Brassloff, who was awarded $1.6 million of the verdict for loss of consortium, for their terrible loss. But they expressed optimism that the jury’s pronouncement might at least help prevent future tragedies.
Specter told the news media: “The Brassloffs are gratified by the unanimous jury verdict and hope this causes Jefferson and Dr. Judy to exercise greater care when utilizing new modalities of treatment.”