Sean Higgins Beats Rehearing Attempt in Med Mal Appeal

Houston Partner Sean Higgins recently persuaded a Texas appeals court not to rehear a panel’s reversal of a $1.87 million jury verdict against a neurosurgeon in a wrongful death medical malpractice suit.

In February 2010, the decedent was admitted to the hospital with neurological symptoms. Our neurosurgeon client examined the decedent and ordered his intracranial pressure to be monitored for 24 hours. After the monitoring showed no sustained increases in intracranial pressure, the decedent was released from the hospital and directed to follow up with his treating neurologist and report to the emergency room if his symptoms reappeared. Three months later, the decedent died in his sleep. The cause of death was disputed, but the widow claimed that her husband died from increased intracranial pressure.

The plaintiff alleged the neurosurgeon was negligent because he should have performed surgery to install a shunt to drain the excess cerebrospinal fluid, claiming that the decedent would not have died had the neurosurgeon done so. The plaintiff called neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Parrish to testify to the standard of care. Dr. Parrish testified based on training and experience that the symptoms presented by the decedent coupled with the results of an MRI required surgery “every time.” Dr. Parrish, however, conceded that the symptoms were generic, with multiple causes; that the decedent did not present classic or sentinel symptoms of increased intracranial pressure; and that the features shown on the MRI were not necessarily indicative of the decedent’s present condition.

A jury awarded the plaintiff $4.2 million, though the trial court reduced that figure to $1.87 million under statutory damages caps. The neurosurgeon was found 80 percent liable.

We were hired after the verdict to represent the neurosurgeon. We argued on appeal that Dr. Parrish’s opinion was conclusory and therefore not evidence of negligence. In April 2016, a three-judge panel reversed and rendered judgment for our client.

The plaintiff moved for panel rehearing and en banc reconsideration. On March 14, the panel denied rehearing but issued a revised opinion reversing and rendering judgment. The full court denied the motion for en banc reconsideration. However, four members of the en banc court dissented in two separate opinions.

Higgins told Law360 that the ruling was the “correct result.” Read his full quote and Law360’s coverage of the ruling here.

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