Joseph Palanki was eleven months old when he underwent surgery to reduce scrotal swelling. Along with taking away the inflammation, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center surgeon removed 90% of the infant’s bladder. Joseph Palanki has undergone several treatments since and still cannot urinate without a catheter. Unwilling to go unremunerated for the malpractice, Joseph’s West Tennessee family sued the hospital and was awarded $16 million by a jury after a trial in May, 2005. Soon after the trial, however, Walter Kurtz, a Davidson County Circuit Court Judge, reduced the verdict to $6.5 million. The Palankis appealed, but on Monday the Court of Appeals upheld Judge Kurtz’s decision.
No amount of money could have adequately compensated that little boy for the life he will lead with only 10% of his bladder, but the original jury-awarded sum could have more easily defrayed the costs his surgeon’s mistake will incur throughout his lifetime. While it is unfortunate that the lesser award was upheld by the court, cases like this send a strong message to our health care providers that our lives, and thus doctors’ diligence, have great worth. It is up to all of us to reinforce that message by taking action any time we or someone we know has been treated carelessly by a physician.