On March 25, 2004, Johnson Devadas, a 25 year old pharmacist, consulted with ophthalmologist Kevin Niksarli, M.D. to determine his candidacy for Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis (known as LASIK – a procedure that uses a laser to correct certain vision problems and reduce a person’s dependence on glasses or contact lenses).
Dr. Niksarli evaluated Mr. Devadas and found him to be a good candidate for the procedure which was then performed upon both of his eyes on April 7, 2004. He followed up with the doctor the next day, a week later and a month later.
On February 21, 2007, Devadas next (and last) returned to the doctor with complaints of blurriness and double vision. He’d developed ectasia, a progressive thinning and bulging of the corneas that causes diminished visual function.
On May 31, 2007, Devadas filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Niksarli claiming that the doctor failed to disclose the risks of the procedure and that he would not have undergone the surgery had adequate disclosure been given beforehand.
It turns out that Devadas had a mild or early form of keratoconus known as forme fruste keratoconus that (a) was not but should have been diagnosed by Dr. Niksarli and (b) contraindicated the LASIK surgery.
On June 10, 2009, after a nine day trial, the Manhattan jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor finding that the defendant committed malpractice by (1) performing surgery that was contraindicated and (2) failing to obtain informed consent prior to the surgery.
The jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $3,100,000 ($100,000 past – five years, $3,000,000 future – 45 years).
On appeal, the defense argued that the pain and suffering award was excessive because after the surgery plaintiff had near 20/20 visual acuity.
Plaintiff persuasively countered, though, that visual function has two components – quantity (i.e., visual acuity) and quality – and that his visual quality was so impaired that it left him with many permanent, significant deficits including:
- double vision
- blurry vision (with resulting headaches)
- starbursts and halos
- chronic dry eyes (limiting his ability to wear contact lenses to six hours a day and leaving him with severely diminished functional vision for 18 hours a day)
- poor night vision resulting in inability to drive at night (after contacts are removed due to intolerance)
- inability to resume recreational bowling or billiards
- diminished ability to complete household tasks including cooking and home repairs
In Devadas v. Niksarli (1st Dept. 2014), the appellate court affirmed both the liability finding and the pain and suffering damages awards.
In addition to pain and suffering damages, Devadas was awarded (and the appeals court sustained) $60,000 for past loss of earnings and $20,000 a year for 37 years for future loss of earnings. These awards were based, in part, on plaintiff’s inability to fill as many prescriptions as he used to and the additional costs incurred when he had to hire a pharmacy technician to serve as another pair of eyes to double-check his accuracy.
- The loss of consortium claim was dismissed on appeal because the continuous treatment doctrine that allowed plaintiff to avoid the statute of limitations defense (2 1/2 years in medical malpractice cases) has been held by the courts to be personal to the recipient of the medical treatment and does not extend to spouses.
- Plaintiff had signed an informed consent form document on the day of surgery but claimed that the administration of Valium shortly before he reviewed and signed the form was inappropriate. Also, there was a handwritten informed consent note that plaintiff argued, through an expert forensic chemist who specializes in the examination of questioned documents, was created by the defendant years after the surgery and intentionally artificially aged by him.
- Plaintiff’s attorney, Todd J. Krouner, has successfully prosecuted dozens of LASIK and related eye medical malpractice cases and is the premier attorney for LASIK cases in New York.