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A Fulton County, Georgia jury awarded Joshua Coleman, a 19 year old Piedmont College freshman $11.7 million for a spinal surgery that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The surgery, in 2003 was to relieve chronic back pain. But after the surgery, Coleman ended up in a wheelchair paralyzed.

Coleman’s attorney blamed his paralysis on a medical mistake by his surgeon and a team of doctors at North Fulton Medical Center. The doctor and his medical group settled with Joshua out of court. However a neurologist involved in the surgery denied responsibility and proceeded to trial.

The neurologist, Dr. Frank Puhalovich was adamant that he was not to blame. The jury at trial, however found that they were negligent in their care of Mr. Coleman.

Puhalovich’s attorney, Mary Katherine Greene, said he was only in the operating room for about 10 minutes making sure a technician properly hooked up a monitor that tracks nerve impulses along the spinal chord through electrodes attached to Coleman’s head and feet.

The monitor sounded an alarm during the surgery, which Coleman’s lawyers say should have prompted his doctors to remove screws and rods installed during the operation. The doctors should also have performed a standard “wake-up test,” which involves cutting back anesthesia so the patient can be asked to wiggle his toes to indicate his nerves are undamaged, Coleman’s attorneys say.

The rods and screws were removed within six hours, but by that time, the damage was done, according to Coleman’s attorneys who say the devices were pressing against his spinal cord and should have been removed within minutes not hours.

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