The Injury Litigation Blog

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Maryland Family Receives $14 Million Medical Malpractice Award for Son’s Failed Surgery

By Byron Warnken

A federal district court judge in Maryland’s southern division handed down a $14.2 million verdict to the parents of a child who sustained debilitating injuries from alleged medical negligence during surgery. The award followed an 11-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chaung in July 2022.


According to the complaint filed in the case, in 2016, parent plaintiffs sought treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) for their nine-month-old son’s recurring ear infections. They were referred to otolaryngologist Dr. Scott Brietzke. After examining their son, referred to as Z.R. in the complaint, Dr. Brietzke recommended surgical ear tube placement and adenoid removal to address his chronic infections. The procedures required the administration of general anesthesia. 


In accordance with Dr. Bretzke’s evaluation, the surgical procedures were scheduled for September 2016, when Z.R. was approximately one year old. However, the complaint alleges that Z.R. presented on the day of surgery with several significant risk factors that should have resulted in its delay or postponement. Namely, Z.R. was born with sickle cell disease, which hinders the ability of blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. According to medical records referenced in the complaint, he had also been diagnosed with asthma and was “audibly wheezing” on the morning of the surgery. Furthermore, his presurgical American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) assessment placed him at a level III, which is “consistent with moderate systemic disease,” according to the complaint.


As contended by the plaintiffs, the above-outlined risk factors are well documented by medical literature as potentially causing severe complications in a surgery conducted with general anesthesia. However, the plaintiffs were purportedly never informed of the dangers that Z.R.’s medical conditions posed during his surgery, and the operation commenced as scheduled. 


Per the complaint, shortly after the administration of anesthesia to Z.R., his blood oxygen levels dropped rapidly, while his heart rate became dangerously elevated. His condition continued to decline for roughly 30 minutes. Vital sign monitoring apparently showed a sustained decline in blood pressure and a consistently abnormal pulse rate, signs that Z.R. was “working very hard to breathe oxygen.” But despite these indicators of severe complications, Dr. Bretzke and his surgical staff allegedly failed to take corrective action until 40 minutes after the surgery began. 


The complaint goes on to detail how the medical team eventually gave Z.R. a dose of magnesium sulfate medication in an attempt to stabilize his respiration, but it exacerbated his breathing difficulties, and his condition worsened. They again tried to administer two different types of medication intravenously, but surgical staff apparently failed to infiltrate Z.R.’s IV line. Meanwhile, Z.R.’s respiratory system continued to break down. He began to hyperventilate, but over 15 more minutes elapsed until surgical staff called an emergency “Code Blue” and initiated CPR and defibrillation. By the time Z.R. was finally stabilized and transferred to an intensive care unit, his brain had sustained severe oxygen deprivation. 


After the failed surgery, Z.R. was diagnosed with permanent, significant brain damage. According to the complaint, he is “unable to walk, unable to talk, and is otherwise globally developmentally delayed.” His parents, along with their attorneys Robert R. Michael, Gregory K. Wells, and Andrew J. Hall of Shadoan, Michael, & Wells, LLP, and Joseph H. Ostad of the Law Offices of Joseph H. Ostad, PA, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on Z.R.’s behalf in 2019. The lawsuit alleged that negligence on the part of medical staff at WRNMMC directly contributed to his injuries, and that his parents could not make informed consent for the surgery because the hospital did not adequately inform them of the risks involved. As WRNMMC is a military hospital under federal authority, the U.S. government was the named defendant in the complaint.

This was an unfortunate case of a minor experiencing horrific, lifelong brain damage. It was not, however, a birth injury case as the injuries did not stem from birth. Shadoan, Michael, & Wells, LLP are regarded as excellent medical malpractice lawyers. To see a list of some of the best birth injury lawyers in Maryland click here.

During the bench trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys presented an outline of alleged negligence that began in the weeks leading up to the surgery when the anesthesiologist assigned to Z.R.’s procedure, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, expressed concerns about his preexisting conditions and was ignored. The legal team also admonished Dr. Brietzke for allowing a resident doctor with less training and experience to perform most of the surgery, even as Z.R.s condition declined catastrophically. They also argued that the failure of the medical team to appropriately administer stabilizing medication to Z.R. during the surgery was a clear violation of proper standards of care.


Judge Chuang agreed that negligence had occurred during the surgery, noting in his verdict opinion that “it is beyond dispute that as a result of the cardiac arrest, Z.R. now suffers from a permanent global neurological impairment giving host to a rise of disabilities.” However, he ruled against the plaintiffs’ additional informed consent claim. Chaung’s medical malpractice award to the Harris-Reese family totaled $14.2 million, including $11 million in future medical expenses. 

Who Insures the Top Workers’ Comp Law Firms for Comp?

By Byron Warnken

Can you learn anything about workers’ compensation insurance from some of the best law firms representing injured workers? It’s hard to say.  How law firms get comp insurance is usually based more on their insurance brokers than it is an active selection of insurers based on their experience representing injured workers. Some of the top […]

The Hidden Costs of Maryland’s Non-Economic Damages Cap

By Byron Warnken

One might think a cap on non-economic damages is reasonable.  In theory, it is reasonable.  That’s how the right sells it to our population.  I do not, however, believe the cap on non-economic damages in Maryland is reasonable.  It’s simply too low at approximately $800,000. How do you tell someone born with severe cerebral palsy […]

Maryland’s Best? Lawyers

By Byron Warnken

A lawyer can’t tell you he’s the best.  In fact, he can’t tell you anything that compares himself to another lawyer unless it’s objectively true.  Why don’t we tolerate puffery in legal services the same way we do in nearly everything else in our capitalist society?  I’m not sure.  We’re lawyers.  We’re sticklers for the […]

Peter Angelos Still Works Cases?

By Byron Warnken went from algorithmic updates to hand updates within the last few months.  A smattering of the updates come across my desk.  Actually, they do the modern day equivalent and pipe through my inbox.  I’m seldom surprised by what I see.  If I thought a lawyer was busy and handling a lot of car accident […]

More Medical Malpractice Studies

By Byron Warnken

The public perception, mostly fueled by the American Medical Industrial Complex, is that medical malpractice suits are unjustified and out of control. As statistics and facts become more available all the time, perhaps this is changing to some degree. The truth is the exact opposite. It’s difficult for victims of medical negligence to get just […]

21 Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases in One Month

By Byron Warnken

In June of 2014, there were only 21 Medical Malpractice lawsuits filed in Maryland Circuit Courts.  Of those 21 cases, only 3 med mal firms filed more than a single case. Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins, L.L.C. filed three cases, Schochor, Frederico and Staton P.A. filed two, and Snyder and Snyder filed two. Other […]

How to Find the Best Lawyers in Maryland when You’re Out of State

By Byron Warnken

Besides using online services like, there is one excellent way to find the best injury lawyers in Maryland (or the best lawyers in any practice area anywhere).  As always, the term “best” is very subjective and slightly misleading.  In this instance, the below method may or may not lead to the best actual lawyer, […]