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Anesthesiologist accused of failing to maintain adequate anesthesia levels. Cucalon v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 32590 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2015)


Cucalon v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp is a medical malpractice case that started off with the patient being diagnosed with a herniated disc and after treatment ending up with paraplegia. A herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc or ruptured disc, occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher outer layer. When a disc herniates, the inner core (nucleus pulposus) can press on nearby nerves or the spinal cord, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the area of the body where the affected nerve travels. Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the herniated disc and the amount of pressure it puts on surrounding structures.

Paraplegia is a condition characterized by impairment or loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of the body, including both legs and often the lower trunk. It results from damage to the spinal cord, typically at the thoracic (chest) level or below. This damage disrupts the communication between the brain and the parts of the body below the injury site, leading to paralysis. Paraplegia is usually caused by traumatic injuries such as spinal cord trauma from accidents, falls, or sports injuries. However, it can also be caused by medical malpractice. That plaintiff in this case alleges that his paraplegia was due to mistakes made by the anesthesiologist.

Background Facts
Cucalon arrived at Staten Island University Hospital on June 30, 2009, complaining of lower back pain. Diagnosed with a herniated disc at the T7-T8 level, he was scheduled for surgery on July 7, 2009. The planned procedure was a T7-T8 discectomy, which was performed by Dr. John Shiou, with Dr. Aziz Ghobriel present as one of the anesthesiologists.

During the surgery, which began at approximately 1:30 PM, Cucalon experienced unexpected neurological complications. Specifically, at around 7:35 PM, the monitoring technician notified Dr. Shiou that Cucalon’s left tibial Somatosensory Evoked Potentials (SEP) amplitude was decreasing and eventually became undetectable. Despite efforts to stabilize his condition, Cucalon allegedly sustained permanent paraplegia as a result of the medical care provided.

Cucalon subsequently initiated legal action, alleging that the doctors and the hospital were negligent in their management and treatment during the surgery. Ghobriel denied negligence and filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing the case.

Whether Ghobriel deviated from accepted medical standards in his role as an anesthesiologist during Cucalon’s surgery, contributing to the alleged injuries sustained by Cucalon.

The Supreme Court of New York, Richmond County denied Ghobriel’s motion for summary judgment, indicating that there were factual disputes that must be resolved at trial regarding Ghobriel’s adherence to accepted medical practices during the surgery.

The court’s rationale in denying summary dismissal centered on the presence of factual disputes critical to determining the case. Despite arguments from the defense asserting adherence to standard medical practices, the court found unresolved issues concerning the adequacy of care provided during the surgery. Key points of contention included whether the anesthesiologist adequately monitored and adjusted anesthesia levels, critical in preventing complications like the plaintiff’s alleged paralysis. Expert testimonies presented by both sides highlighted differing perspectives on the responsibilities and actions expected of medical professionals in such surgical settings. The court emphasized that these disputes were material to the case’s outcome, necessitating a jury’s evaluation to resolve conflicting interpretations of medical standards and the events leading to the plaintiff’s irreversible injuries. Thus, summary dismissal was denied.

The court’s decision to deny Ghobriel’s motion for summary judgment reflected the unresolved factual disputes regarding Ghobriel’s actions during Cucalon’s surgery. The case will proceed to trial, where the parties would have the opportunity to present further evidence and arguments regarding the alleged medical malpractice.

If you or someone you care about suffers from paraplegia and you believe it was due to medical malpractice, you may have grounds to seek compensation for damages incurred. Contact an experienced New York spinal injury lawyer to determine your legal options for pursuing compensation.


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