One chapter in a true medical tragedy has come to a close in New York State.
A New York jury has awarded $13 million in compensation to the family of a Jersey City woman who died of septic shock after undergoing gastrointestinal surgery in 2011. Harrison, New Jersey police officer Darren Raefski and his three children will each receive portions of the enormous award. Mother Cheryl Raefski was 43 at the time of her death.
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At trial, jurors heard evidence that Raefski died just days after undergoing surgery in Manhattan. The homemaker and mother checked in to NYU Langone Hospital in November of 2011 to undergo a procedure for the removal of a benign polyp in her colon.
Judith Livingston, attorney for the plaintiff family, told jurors that NYU Langone surgeon Dr. Christian Hirsch failed to recognize that he had "burned" a portion of Raefski's colon during the operation.
Following the procedure, the mother told her medical team that she was in excruciating pain, yet Dr. Hirsch, according to testimony, waited a full four days before ordering a CAT scan. When completed, the diagnostic test revealed that she had suffered a virulent blood infection.
Raefski died on the operating table days afterward. Her cause of death has been listed as septic shock, a result of the blood infection she suffered due to her initial operation.
Husband Darren Raefski filed suit against Dr. Hirsch, arguing that the colorectal surgeon had violated the standard of medical care by delaying the mother's CAT scan, despite her severe pain. Raefski was reportedly on powerful painkillers in the days before her death.
Livingston, the plaintiff's attorney, says that Hirsch was "clearly negligent," according to the New York Post. After coming out of surgery, the lawyer noted, "[Raefski] was in excessive pain, described in the hospital records as 10-out-of-10 pain, while on the strongest painkillers they can give you." Dr. Hirsch "just missed it and refused to see what was going on."
Before her death, the mother reportedly told her husband, "they hurt me. They hurt me really bad." Interviewed after the verdict, Darren Raefski said, "you believe in doctors. They're going to do the right thing," but "from the minute she got out of surgery, she said, 'I felt something was wrong.' "
Under New York State's strict medical malpractice laws, doctors and surgeons can be held accountable for financial damages caused as a result of their medical negligence. Jurors examine the standard of care, using expert witness testimony to determine how a similarly-situated doctor would have acted under the circumstances. Doctors who violate the standard of care, deviating from accepted medical practice, can be held liable for injuries.
It took jurors less than a day of deliberations to conclude that the surgeon should be held liable for the family's damages. Awarding a total of $13 million in damages, the jury apportioned $3 million each for the family's three children. Darren Raefski will receive the remainder of the award.
Speaking to the New York Post, Raefski told reporters that he took the jury's favorable verdict as a sign that his late wife was still watching over his family. He told his children, "I take care of you now, but your mother did a better job than I did because she's still taking care of you." "I know nothing can bring my wife back," he said, "but at least we know she's still watching over us."