According to a 58-year-old laborer’s attorneys, what should have been a routine case of Cat Scratch Disease was incorrectly diagnosed as a swollen lymph node requiring surgical removal.
Unfortunately, in the course of the surgery, the patient’s spinal accessory nerve was damaged, resulting in what plaintiff attorneys described as ongoing pain, nerve palsy, disfigurement of the patient’s left shoulder, and an inability to extend his left arm or to raise it over his head.
Litigation in the case had commenced four years earlier. After a trial lasting two and a half weeks, a New Haven jury awarded the patient $4.2 million. The plaintiff’s attorneys reminded jurors that the patient was a lifelong laborer who could no longer perform duties at his job, where he now worked in a much-reduced capacity.
A correct diagnosis, the plaintiff successfully argued, would have identified the true cause of the patient’s complaint as a mild Bartonellosis bacterial infection. More commonly known as Cat Scratch Disease, this infection presents as swollen lymph nodes and typically only affects one side. For most healthy patients infected, Cat Scratch Disease is fairly benign and often clears up without further treatment. Antimicrobial therapy is not ordinarily recommended due to risk of side effects from antibiotics.
The plaintiff’s attorney explained that the patient “lives on a farm, where he and his partner take in stray animals. One of the cats scratched him on the neck and that gave the bacteria that caused the infection.”
According to press reports, the jury awarded $500,000 for pain and suffering, $500,000 for loss of enjoyment of life, another $1.625 million for future pain and suffering and $1.625 million for future loss of enjoyment. The physician stopped practicing surgery in 2010 and has moved on to a different specialty in a different clinical setting in the same state.
Ann Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.