Claudia Archer - She should have had a three-inch scar, instead she lost two legs
November 1, 1996
They actually tried to blame Claudia and her soldier husband Raymond for the amputation of both of her legs. All too often, defendants in medical malpractice cases try to “blame the victim,” rather than to accept responsibility themselves. That is what happened to the Archer’s.
The Archer nightmare began in the summer of 1995 when Claudia developed a benign tumor in her neck. At the first sign of something unusual in her neck, Claudia went to the doctors at the Fort Campbell, Kentucky Hospital. It was relatively small at the time. Once it was confirmed to be benign, the doctors told Ray and Claudia it would take a simple surgery to remove the tumor. When the surgery was done, the doctors told the Archers they got it all and there was nothing to worry about.
But, by the summer of the following year, 1996, Claudia felt another growth in the same part of her neck. By this time, Ray had been reassigned to Fort Eustis in Northern Virginia, a little south of Washington, D.C. The Archers were happy when they heard that Claudia would go for treatment at the very largest Army Medical Center, Walter Reed. Again the tumor needed to be removed. Tragically, the surgery was botched. An artery was inadvertently punctured. This mistake went unnoticed until it nearly killed Claudia. Her heart stopped beating on the table. What should have been a reopening of a three-inch scar on her neck now became an emergency “cracking of her chest.” She was cut open like someone who needed open-heart surgery. Her heart failed yet a second time on the table. SHE ALMOST DIED!
When the surgery was finally done, Claudia and her immune system were in a very weakened state. She developed a serious infection. The infection spread to her legs and eventually necessitated an amputation of both legs below the knee.
Can you imagine the horror that Claudia and Ray had thus far been subjected to? What started out as a benign tumor had now ended up in near death and two missing legs. Well, instead of compassion, they were abused because they dared to question what had happened. All they were told was that what happened could not be avoided: the old “things happen” defense. Ray’s frantic efforts to try to get good care for his wife were met with claims by the staff that Ray was the cause of problems. Because of these false claims, Ray was prohibited from being with his wife without supervision. Claudia was denied the love and support of her husband.
Ray heard about 800-TRIAL MD. He called us, and we went to work. Instead of the Army claims that the doctors had done nothing wrong, we found they did plenty wrong. First, the surgeons at Fort Campbell had a relatively easy task. The key to removing benign tumors is to MAKE SURE YOU GET IT ALL. How do you do that? Well, you make sure that the tissue you remove has what doctors call “clean margins.” What that means is that you make sure that the tumor you remove is surrounded by healthy tissue. If you picture a boiled egg with the yolk as the tumor and the white as healthy tissue, you want to make sure you remove the yolk with egg white around the whole yolk. If there is “tumor” at the margins of what is removed, then there is a high probability that the tumor will recur. How do doctors know whether they “got it all?” They send what they removed to the pathology lab to be examined under a microscope.
When we looked at the pathology report from the Fort Campbell, we were amazed to find that the official report specifically found tumor at the margins. This meant that a second surgery should have been done to remove the tumor tissue that was obviously left behind. Mr. Spencer flew to Fort Campbell to depose the doctors there. They had no good explanation for why they did not notify Claudia, and take her back in to remove the small piece of tumor they had left behind. They could not even be certain they had reviewed the pathology report.
With this gross error at Fort Campbell, and the clear errors at Walter Reed, Mr. Spencer was not surprised that the case ultimately settled. But, he was a little surprised at how the negotiations ended. A government attorney and Mr. Spencer met with a Federal Magistrate to see if the case might settle. These conferences typically take a number of hours, sometimes a number of days. Separately, both sides met with the Magistrate and explained their cases. At first, it seemed the government was not really interested in settling, and Mr. Spencer simply and continually asked for a trial date. A bit of a student of Military history, Mr. Spencer has always believed that like war, where nothing is ever won at the peace table that could not have been won on the battlefield---trials are the same. The defense never settles unless they are convinced they will lose at trial.
So, as the conference was drawing to a close, the Magistrate called both sides together in the same room. It did not surprise Mr. Spencer that the government attorney was finally ready to make an offer, but the way it was made was very surprising. The government attorney said, “My supervisor has authorized me to offer $3 million to settle the case.” (Nothing surprising so far) But he then continued, “But if you tell me that $3 million is not enough, then I can offer you $4 million. But I can offer no more.” Mr. Spencer kept a straight face and said, “Three million is not enough. I will discuss your four million dollar offer with my client.”
Ray and Claudia decided to accept the $4,000,000.00 offer.