Sharon Tirante was a 38 year old on April 19, 1986 when she had Depo-Medrol® injected into her lumbar subarachnoid space. Following this she developed disabling pain which was constant and resistant to treatment. Subsequent MRI studies documented lumbo-sacral adhesive arachnoiditis.
(Left to right) Saggital MRI view plus two axial images. Nerve roots of the cauda equina enmeshed in collagenous scar tissue are shown by the red dots with the cerebro-spinal fluid identified by yellow dots. The pattern is consistent with diffuse lumbo-sacral adhesive arachnoiditis of an advanced degree typical of exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
On February 3, 2000 a jury awarded Ms. Tirante $12 million dollars as compensation for her past and future disability as well as her pain and suffering.
Ref: Sharon Tirante versus Syed Khalid Hussain M.D., Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Docket CUM-L-1099-92
|Follow-Up on the Tiranti Case|
$12M Depo-Medrol Verdict Is Set Aside; New Trial Ordered
By Sandy Lovell
Finding the damage award excessive, a Cumberland County judge has overturned a $12 million medical malpractice verdict for a Vineland woman who claims the anti-inflammatory drug Depo-Medrol caused a constant burning pain in her legs. On March 31, Superior Court Judge James Rafferty granted defense attorney Thomas Leyhane’s motion to set aside the Feb. 3 verdict and ordered a new trial. Alexander Wazeter, who represents plaintiff Charon Tirante, filed a motion Wednesday asking Rafferty to reconsider his decision and recuse himself from the case. “The law says that the decision of the jury is to be given very considerable weight,” says Wazeter, a Millville solo practitioner. “It was a very large award, but this woman has undisputed, constant pain.” Tirante, now 51, charged that Dr. Syed Hussain negligently injected Depo-Medrol into her spine while performing a spinal tap to treat her lower back pain in 1986 at Newcomb Medical Center in Vineland. At trial, Wazeter had asked the jury to grant compensation based on the “time unit rule,” considering the plaintiff’s 27-year life expectancy and the 13 years she has already lived with the pain. Wazeter says that in light of the 40 years of pain that the jury had to consider, the $12 million award made sense. Given that the court found the amount excessive, he says the judge should have considered remittitur, rather than retrial. Wazeter cites Shuster v. Ponzio, in which a Camden County jury awarded more than $12.1 million in damages to a 37-year-old man in 1998 who suffered from arachnoiditis, as well as other ailments, allegedly as a result of medical malpractice. Superior Court Judge Charles Rand granted a motion for remittitur, cutting the award roughly in half. Leyhane, who heads a Lawrenceville firm, argued in his motion not only that the damages award was excessive but that the jury’s decision had been influenced by bias against the Pakistani-born physician and sympathy for the plaintiff. Leyhane opposes the recusal motion, saying there was no evidence of judicial bias. But Wazeter states in his motions for recusal and reconsideration that Rafferty made comments in court indicating that he had his mind set against the plaintiff’s case. When the foreman first read the verdict, answering “no” to whether the defendant had proved pre-existing injuries, Rafferty “incorrectly assumed they had returned a verdict of ‘no cause’ and began to dismiss the jury,” according to the motion. Wazeter also says Rafferty commented that he thought the jury would find for the defendant on liability. Tirante v. Hussain, L-001099-92. Published in New Jersey Law Journal on: Monday, April 10, 2000
The Tiranti case makes clear that the legal system, while an important, safety net for society is not always able to protect the public interest. Its labyrinthian nature, as shown by the redrawn catoon by Kal of the Baltimore Sun, is proven by the Tiranti case. The issue of entry of toxic materials into the subarachnoid space producing clinically incapacitating adhesive arachnoiditis is an important one because there continues to be little understanding among the public, or the medical profession, regarding this serious universal public health problem. Because of this unsuspecting patients continue to be at risk. Only by the propagation of this important information to the public and medical practitioners can productive change result in the future. The most important step forward will be when patients ask exactly what is being done and what is being injected. The cause and effect issues in the Tiranti case are clear from the medical standpoint. From the legal perspective the view is more complex and it appears that this case will continue to be in the courts for a number of years to come. An August, 2001 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling indicated that trial courts should reduce verdicts instead of throwing them out and the size of a verdict does not, in and of itself, justify ordering a new trail.