Yale-New Haven Hospital plans to appeal a $1.2 million malpractice verdict awarded to Westbrook resident Noreen Ranelli last Thursday by a Milford jury.
The lawsuit alleged that the hospital is responsible for a botched anesthesia procedure performed on Ranelli when she gave birth to her first child in 2000. Her lawyer claimed a junior resident injected anesthetic into her spine without an attending physician’s supervision.
As a result of permanent nerve damage from the injection, Ranelli now suffers from chronic pain in her right leg and foot, said her attorney David Slossberg, of the law firm Hurwitz, Sagarin & Slossberg in Milford, Conn.
During the birth, Ranelli and her husband had asked to see the attending anesthesiologist for a combined spinal-epidural because her labor was not progressing easily, he said.
“Then the named defendant, Dr. Thomas Denker, who just called himself Dr. Tom, came in and said he was the person in charge of the procedure,” Slossberg said. “When really, he was just a junior resident with about four days experience working on the labor delivery floor.”
Yale-New Haven spokesman Mark D’Antonio said the hospital was not negligent in providing professional oversight for Ranelli’s care.
“Yale-New Haven Hospital was very disappointed to learn of the verdict,” he said. “We believe our residents are properly trained and well-supervised. The residency program was at the time and continues to be in excellent standing with and accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which establishes standards of supervision for accredited residency programs throughout the country.”
Slossberg said Denker, who had little experience performing combined spinal-epidurals, accidentally pierced some of the nerves in Ranelli’s spine while administering the anesthesia. He said evidence showed the attending physician on call over night had already left by the time Ranelli needed care, and his replacement, who would have supervised Denker, was late for work.
“The jury found the hospital responsible for a departure from the standard of care,” Slossberg said. “In the hands of a trained physician, it is far less likely that an accident would have happened.”
School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said it is common for hospital residents to perform relatively simple tasks without the presence of an attending physician, and he believes the combined spinal-epidural is one such procedure.
“Of course, there is a spectrum of what’s acceptable,” Alpern said. “Residents can put in intravenous lines without supervision, and that’s fine. Obviously if we’re talking about brain surgery, you want a trained physician to be not only attending but also performing the procedure.”
Denker and anesthesiology professor Ana Lobo were named along with the hospital and University as defendants in the suit. Denker and Lobo both declined to comment.