Judge Awards $725K, Turns Screw on VA Hospital in Malpractice Lawsuit

Judge Awards $725K, Turns Screw on VA Hospital in Malpractice Lawsuit
John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock

A U.S. District Court judge in Little Rock recently found that a surgeon at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Little Rock had botched a surgery and awarded the 75-year-old patient $725,000.

Walter Paul Hoover of Webb City, Missouri, sued the U.S. government in 2011 after a surgery in 2009 “caused complete paralysis of his quadriceps,” Judge James Moody Jr. wrote in his order on Sept. 18.

Hoover said in his lawsuit that he fell and injured his back in 2009. During the surgery to repair his back, surgeons Drs. Jeffrey Oppenheimer and Dennis McDonnell at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock “misplaced screws into Mr. Hoover’s spinal canal,” according to the lawsuit filed by Hoover’s attorney, George Wise Jr. of Little Rock.

After the surgery, Hoover suffered from “paralysis, primarily on the left, including no quadriceps function, numbness, significantly increased pain,” the lawsuit said.

He had a second surgery to correct the placement of the screw, but the damage had been done, the lawsuit said.

Hoover is “primarily confined” to a wheelchair and “is in constant pain,” the lawsuit said.

Hoover and his wife, Vivian, first filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs in North Little Rock and demanded $5 million in damages. The claim was denied.

“Our investigation did not disclose any negligent acts or omissions by employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs acting within the scope of their employment,” VA Regional Counsel Tammy Kennedy wrote in a 2010 letter.

The Hoovers took the case to federal court, and Judge Moody found otherwise.

“Dr. Jeffrey Oppenheimer placed the screw in a manner which damaged and injured Mr. Hoover’s L-3 nerve root,” Moody wrote. “Dr. Oppenheimer’s negligent misplacement of the screw caused” Mr. Hoover’s permanent injury.

Moody also awarded Vivian Hoover $25,000 for loss of consortium.

“We feel like justice was done,” said Wise, the attorney for the Hoovers.

Neither Oppenheimer nor McDonnell was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Oppenheimer, who is now practicing in Florida, declined to comment. We couldn’t reach McDonnell for comment last week.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Little Rock represented the federal government. A spokeswoman for the office declined to comment.