A Prince George's County Circuit Court jury has awarded a Laurel woman $635,000 in her malpractice suit against a Lanham neurosurgeon, more than six times the amount a state health claims panel made in the same case two years ago.
Bertha Alexander, 40, and her husband Irving won their suit on Thursday against Dr. Rajindar S. Sidhu, 45, who operated on a spinal disc in Bertha Alexander's back on June 29, 1978, at Doctor's Hospital in Lanham. Alexander said that because of complications that arose from the operation, she had to return to the hospital nine months later for abdominal surgery and has since suffered continuing back pain and recurring bouts of hepatitis.
Those conditions have left her partially disabled and unable to return to her secretarial position at the county's Department of Social Services, her attorney said.
The state Health Claims Arbitration Panel ruled in June 1982 that Sidhu had been negligent during Alexander's operation and accidentally lacerated the iliac artery, which is in the vicinity of the large intestine. Court records show that thoracic surgeons were called in to repair the tear after the back operation was completed and that Alexander received blood transfusions in the process.
The panel awarded the Alexanders $101,000 in their complaint against Sidhu, which was brought in 1980. Both Sidhu and the Alexanders appealed the decision to Circuit Court.
Thursday's judgment was an unusually large one for such a suit, according to Alexander's attorneys and courthouse personnel familiar with similar cases.
Kenneth Berman, one of Alexander's attorneys, said she cannot stand or sit for long periods of time and is fatigued throughout the day. Alexander would not answer questions about the case on the advice of her lawyers.
Sidhu's attorney, Conrad Varner, told the jury that Sidhu was not aware of any mistakes he may have made during the surgery, according to court records. Neither Varner nor Sidhu would respond to questions about the case at their offices yesterday. It was unclear whether Sidhu would appeal the jury's verdict.
The jury members found Sidhu negligent after seven hours of deliberation in which they determined that Sidhu did not use the "caution, attention and skill a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances."
Sidhu testified that he determined surgery was necessary in Alexander's case after she continued to complain of "radiating pain" from her lower back after a year or more of conservative treatment that included physical therapy.