A jury came back Monday with a $1.7 million judgment against an Anchorage neurosurgeon after unanimously finding that he acted recklessly and negligently in providing botched medical care for a patient. Kim B. Wright, a neurosurgeon at Alaska Neuroscience Associates, LLC, was found to have harmed former patient Marvin Kroener, who suffered irreversible nerve damage stemming from a procedure performed in 2009.
Kroener had gone to see Wright after suffering a work injury during his employment as a longtime plumber for the Anchorage School District, Kroener's attorney Ray Brown said on Tuesday. Kroener saw Wright in April 2009, complaining of lower back and leg pain. Wright recommended a spinal surgery in hopes of alleviating the pain, according to the complaint.
Wright never properly performed the surgery, however, stating that during the procedure, he had found a meningocele -- a cyst filled with cerebrospinal fluid -- that had caused extensive bleeding and resulted in a large opening of the dura, a thick membrane and one of the layers surrounding the spinal cord, the complaint states.
The next day, Kroener returned to Wright's office in a wheelchair, complaining of severe neck pain and headaches. He was then admitted to the hospital for several days, diagnosed with chemical meningitis, a rare post-operative infection. Wright informed him of the surgical complications, stating Kroener had deformed blood vessels and a fluid-filled cyst that resulted in the bleeding and pain.
Kroener decided to get a second opinion that summer by Dr. Louis Kralick, who went on to perform surgery on his cervical spine in July. Kroener's condition continued to worsen, however, and Kralick performed a second surgery in August. During the second operation, Kralick discovered a defect in the dural layer, and hemostatic material -- material used to stop bleeding during procedures -- stuffed into the spine, the complaint states.
Kralick came back to Kroener and told him there was no cyst or blood vessel defect before Wright had performed surgery, and that Kroener's complications were "caused by instrumentation," the complaint states.
Kroener, in "near constant pain," filed the lawsuit against Wright in 2011. Kroener has now been diagnosed with an incurable inflammation of the nerves called arachnoiditis, according to Brown. The jury came back Monday unanimously agreeing that Wright had acted negligently and recklessly in providing care to Kroener. Total damages -- including past medical treatment of $232,000, among other factors -- totaled $1.72 million.
Kroener is still out of the workforce and will never return to plumbing, Brown said.
The fact that the jury found Wright acted recklessly is "unusual," Brown said. Brown said Wright is "a bad guy, from our perspective," for causing a rift within a medical community generally held in high regard for providing quality care. "It's a tragedy," Brown said.
Rose Etheridge, a Workers' Compensation adjuster with Broadspire, said that she listened in to the case proceedings. Now that the judgment has been made, she said she feels compelled to go back and look at old claims involving Wright. The verdict "opens up that can of worms," she said, as to the veracity of his work.
"We're disappointed in the verdict but it's certainly not over by any means," said Howard Lazar, Wright's attorney. He said there will likely be an appeal in the case.
Wright is currently facing another medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Anchorage Superior Court in October. Former patient Sheri Knutson claims that Wright acted recklessly and negligently in providing medical care for her after she came to him suffering headaches.
The surgery, performed exactly two years before the complaint was filed, was an operation to place a shunt in the skull, to relieve intracranial pressure. During the surgery, Wright "lost" a surgical sponge, which was left in Knutson's abdominal cavity, the complaint states. Wright admitted to this in his response filed with the court.
After the first surgery, the shunt failed to function properly, and Wright then recommended that the catheter be replaced and repositioned, the complaint states. He performed a second surgery about a month later. His multiple attempts to replace the catheter "fell below the standard of care" and caused Knutson serious injury, the complaint alleges. Knutson is suing for damages for alleged pain and suffering, future medical care, and other expenses. The case is slated for jury trial in November.
Lazar also represents Wright in this case, and noted the litigation was still in its early stages. There are "many complaints filed against doctors that get dismissed in the end with there being no trial at all, and no settlement," he said.
Wright is also facing a lawsuit from a former business partner seeking to dissolve Neuroscience Associates, LLC, which Wright formed with Dr. Paul Jensen in 2007.
Jensen is suing Wright, claiming the two agreed to dissolve the partnership after Jensen decided to move to Fairbanks, but then Wright changed his mind. Wright moved Neuroscience Associates' Anchorage office, fired and rehired the bookkeeper without consulting Jensen, locked Jensen out of medical records, and then entered into a new business lease in Fairbanks without consulting Jensen, the motion states. "In fact, Wright has caused (Alaska Neuroscience Associates) to compete against Jensen's new practice in Fairbanks -- even while the Jensen Trust continued as a 50 percent member," the motion states. The case is slated for jury trial in December.
Correction: This article previously stated that Knutson's procedure involved a shunt placed in the heart. This has been corrected to a shunt placed in the skull.