A jury sided with a former UNLV football player Wednesday, saying a Las Vegas surgeon botched a spinal surgery that ended the man’s athletic career.
Jurors awarded Beau Orth more than $4.2 million in his medical malpractice suit after a little more than an hour of deliberation. They determined Dr. Albert Capanna was negligent when he operated on the wrong spot in Orth’s back, damaging a once-healthy disc and failing to repair the injured one he was tasked with fixing.
Orth’s back pain started after his sophomore season in 2009, when the 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound defensive back switched to linebacker.
MRI results showed Orth’s L5-S1 disc, in the lower back, was herniated. Discs, the cushioning between vertebrae, can irritate nerves when they herniate, or slip.
Capanna operated on Orth to repair the damaged disc on Sept. 17, 2010. The doctor testified during the trial that he worked on the correct disc, but that Orth knew there was a risk of damage to the one above it. Capanna even said the surgery caused the additional pain.
Another doctor said in lawsuit documents that he saw damage to the higher disc and believed no surgery had been done on the herniated disc. Orth would have permanent spinal issues, the doctor said.
And the jury agreed with Orth.
Complications from both surgeries have caused Orth’s spine to rapidly degenerate. An all-state safety for the 2007-08 state champion Bishop Gorman Gaels, Orth will require at least two spinal fusion surgeries before he turns 50 years old, another doctor testified to during the trial. The cost of those surgeries will be just under $800,000.
The discomfort only worsened after Capanna performed surgery, Orth testified. Within about three weeks of the procedure, Orth said the simplest of tasks, like standing up or walking, became excruciatingly painful.
Orth saw a second surgeon, Dr. Andrew Cash, in early October 2010. Cash looked at the post-surgery MRI and decided Orth needed another operation, but this time on both the original disc as well as the one Capanna damaged.
Cash told Orth he could never play football again without risk of detrimental injury.
The jury awarded Orth $3.8 million for pain and suffering and $486,000 for past and future medical expenses. Orth, a 25-year-old advertising executive with KVVU-Fox 5, had sought about $7 million.
Dennis Prince, Orth’s attorney, said he thought the jury’s decision was fair.
“It’s a message to [Dr. Capanna] that you can’t do surgery that’s unsafe,” the lawyer said. “It’s really a patient safety issue.”
Sitting in the back row of 16th-floor courtroom at the Regional Justice Center, Orth’s family was visibly emotional as the court clerk read the jury’s decision.
Capanna, by contrast, barely moved a muscle as he stared toward the empty witness box.
With the case over, Orth said he can now “be done with what’s been the worst part of my life.”
“It’s definitely mentally settling for me,” Orth told the Review-Journal after the verdict was announced. “This is part of that moving on process.”
Orth said while the second surgery by Dr. Cash immediately improved his condition, the pain never fully goes away.
“It’s an uphill battle everyday,” Orth said. “But I can kind of rest a little bit easier knowing it’s done.”
Capanna’s attorney, Anthony Lauria, said he expects his client will want to appeal the decision, but declined further comment. Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at email@example.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead.