Jury Orders Former Doctor to Pay $6 Million in Malpractice Suit

A medical malpractice ruling has ordered a former Fayetteville, NC, doctor to pay over $6 million in damages, the Fayetteville Observer reports. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Geraldine Nicholson, who died in 2006 after surgical complications, against Dr. Arleen Kaye Thom, the general surgeon who operated on Nicholson before her death. Thom was found to have left an 18-by-18-inch sponge in Nicholson’s abdomen while removing cancerous tissue from her rectum and colon.

A court ruled the sponge, discovered 10 weeks after the first surgery, caused infections and disease that prevented Nicholson from receiving proper chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer that ultimately killed her. The lawsuit claims the mother of three and wife of 35 years died from not receiving proper treatments for the cancer that hospitalized her in the first place. Nicholson was 56 at her time of death.

Thom’s negligence is being cited as to why Nicholson did not receive proper cancer treatments, her estate’s attorney told reporters. Thom is accused of not completing a thorough sponge count with nurses after the initial surgery. 

A jury ordered Thom to pay roughly $5.1 million to Nicholson’s estate and $750,000 to Nicholson’s husband, Stephen. Thom or her insurance company must also cover legal fees and prejudgment interest dating back to 2008, a sum totaling more than $1 million. The North Carolina Medical Board has said Thom’s license to practice medicine is inactive. Thom has denied responsibility.

Medical malpractice occurs when injuries or death result from a medical professional’s negligence or omission of proper treatment to a patient. Surgeons leaving tools or operating instruments inside a patient may constitute malpractice and in the instance of a patient’s death, a wrongful death suit may be filed.