Laser Spine Institute, a network of medical facilities providing minimally-invasive spinal procedures, must pay $20 million in compensation to the estate of a woman who died after undergoing surgery at the company’s Philadelphia center, the Legal Intelligencer writes. After eight days of trial, a jury in Chester County state court found the ambulatory care center liable for the 2014 death of a 50-year-old Ohio woman, who had traveled to Pennsylvania hoping for a solution to her chronic back pain.

Laser Spine Institute Held Liable In Woman’s Death

The Laser Spine Institute, along with anesthesiologist Glen Rubenstein, MD, had been negligent in administering the woman pain-killing narcotics after her procedure, the jury held. She was discharged from the Philadelphia facility only two hours after her surgery’s completion. “A few hours later,” court documents report, “she was found dead by her husband” in the hotel room where the couple were staying.

Laparoscopic Procedure

Jury Finds Negligent Administration Of Narcotics

What went wrong? At trial, jurors in the Chester County court heard evidence that the patient had been administered six-times the amount of narcotic painkillers than were initially ordered. The woman received Dilaudid, a powerful narcotic that is seven times stronger than morphine. Despite being given an extraordinarily-high dose of painkillers, the patient was discharged within only two hours, returning to her nearby hotel room with a new prescription for narcotics.

She was also instructed to continue her pre-operative medication regimen, which included narcotic drugs. Prior to her surgery, the patient had been taking painkillers to control her back pain for seven years. Doctors at the Laser Spine Institute, according to a pre-trial memo, told the woman that it was fine to continue taking her painkillers up to and including the day of surgery.

Lawsuit: Painkiller Interactions, Premature Discharge Led To Death

Attorneys for her family argue that the patient’s tragic death is simple to explain: she was medicated to within an inch of her life, all at the instruction of the Laser Spine Institute. Their theory is buttressed by an autopsy report, conducted by the Chester County Coroner’s Office, which attributed her death to an “adverse interaction of drugs.” In its wrongful death lawsuit, the woman’s estate accused the Laser Spine Institute of violating the standard of care in two ways:

“Laser Spine Institute and its anesthesiologist, Glen Rubenstein, M.D., were negligent in the administration of narcotics in the post-anesthesia unit. Somehow, [the plaintiff] got six times the amount of heavy narcotic than she should have. She should never have been discharged with that much narcotic in her system. It was also a deviation in the standard of care to instruct her to continue her pre-operative medicine after surgery and prescribe other narcotics.”

An attorney who represented the woman’s estate in the case told reporters that the jury saw the Laser Spine Institute for what it was, a “production line.” The facility lacked all sense of “specialized patient care,” the lawyer says. At trial, the patient’s counsel argued that Laser Spine Institute had prematurely discharged their client to “free up space at the surgery center so doctors could begin a procedure for another patient.”

$20 Million In Damages

Laser Spine Institute’s defense strategy, to shift liability onto the woman’s husband, struck the jury as “offensive,” the attorney continues. “Blaming the husband for failing to pay close attention to his wife in the hotel, and suggesting that she would be alive was offensive to logic,” he says, “since it was [the Laser Spine Institute’s] position that she could have been discharged in that state anyway.”

In court documents, the Spine Institute argued that the patient had received extra Dilaudid for a medically-viable reason, because her body had become tolerant to painkillers after seven years of continued use. Obviously, this argument wasn’t particularly persuasive. After only 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury reached its conclusion, ruling that the Laser Spine Institute was 65% responsible for the woman’s death. Dr. Rubinstein, her anesthesiologist, bore the remaining 35% of liability. The two defendants have been ordered to pay $20 million in compensation.