Friday, May 24

Martin County man wins $3.2 million lawsuit against doctor who allegedly misdiagnosed flesh-eating bacteria

A Martin County man who lost his leg to a flesh-eating bacteria has now won a $3.2 million lawsuit filed against a doctor who he claims misdiagnosed him.

“First year I had it, I fell at least once or twice a day,” Russell Caughey told WPTV, talking about his prosthetic leg.

Caughey lost his leg in November 2018.

“I was working at my trailer … and carrying an air conditioner, slipped on some bricks. When my leg went down in there and I set it over to the side and pulled my leg out, and then looked at it and everything looked fine,” Caughey said. “It was still attached, so I kept working. The next day, it started swelling, and I thought I had just twisted my ankle.”

Caughey told WPTV he went to the emergency room at Martin North Hospital in Stuart, hoping to find out what was causing the swelling and pain.

“Went in, they X-rayed it and then [the doctor] kind of looked down at my leg and says, ‘Well, you just got a sprained ankle.’ And I asked him twice …, ‘Well, am I going to be OK? He said, ‘Yes,'” Caughey said. “They never did do a blood test … on me, and I thought everything was going to be fine.”

“Defendant Donald Wood did not investigate the cause of Russel Caughey’s complaints about pain to the right lower extremity,” according to a lawsuit filed against the doctor who saw Caughey that day.

The lawsuit also claims a triage assessment performed when Caughey arrived at the hospital revealed an “obvious deformity of the right ankle” with “limited range of motion.”

“Donald Wood did not order any serum blood tests or perform any further diagnostic testing,” the suit further alleges.

“He was the same doctor, but when I came back, I was pretty sick,” Caughey said.

That was four days later.

“An MRI of the right lower extremity revealed significant subcutaneous soft tissue edema change throughout the lower leg with some areas of probable blister formation,” the lawsuit said.

“They said, ‘Well, you got staph, you got gangrene and you’re going to lose your leg,’ all in around 12 days from when I hurt myself,” Caughey said.

According to the trial transcript, Wood’s attorneys argued that Wood “met the standard of care and that he was reasonable in his care and treatment.”

WPTV was not present at the trial but asked Caughey’s attorneys about the defense’s theory.

“That when he went home and when he literally sat at home in a bed, icing and elevating and resting for three days, that somehow, during that three-day period, he then became inflect with the flesh-eating bacteria,” Michael Baxter, one of Caughey’s attorneys, said.

Baxter and Jason Weisser filed the lawsuit on behalf of Russell in 2019.

Due to some delays because of the pandemic, the case just went to trial in February.

“We had an infectious disease expert from the University of Virginia who came in and explained that this is, although flesh-eating bacteria is rare, this type of bug, the staph, typically presents over a seven-to-10-day-period and Russ’ case was the classical presentation,” Baxter said.

The jury ultimately ruled in Caughey’s favor and it was a $3.2 million win, according to the verdict form.

“This was basic medicine,” Weisser said. “I mean, it’s a blood test. That’s all you needed to do.”

Martin North Hospital was originally a defendant. However, a settlement with Caughey was reached last year.

“The well-being of our patients is our top priority,” Cleveland Clinic, which owns Martin North Hospital, said in a statement to WPTV, in part. “Cleveland Clinic does not comment on litigation.”

Attorneys for Wood did not respond to WPTV’s request for comment.

According to court records, Wood has asked the court to overturn the verdict or set a new trial.

“When the doctor tells you something, get a second opinion,” Caughey said. “It ain’t gonna hurt.”

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