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Football star says medical malpractice ended his NFL career

A former Minnesota Vikings player has sued the medical professionals involved in his 2016 knee surgery. Sharif Floyd blames a botched surgery for nerve damage that makes it unlikely he will ever play professional football again.

The case raises several legal issues that sometimes arise in medical malpractice litigation. Is the whole surgical team responsible? What happens if surgeons have to go to “Plan B” after the patient is sedated and the operation is underway? How do you project the future earnings of a pro athlete?

A ‘routine surgery’ turned into a disaster

Sharif Floyd played defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. Just one game into the 2016 season, he was sidelined with a knee injury. After meniscus surgery that September to correct the problem, he was left with nerve damage that has prevented him from getting back on the football field.  

In November 2018, Floyd filed a $180 million malpractice lawsuit against the orthopedic surgeon (Dr. James Andrews), the surgical support team, the hospital and other entities. The arthroscopic surgery was considered routine, but the suit alleges that Dr. Andrews deviated from the pre-surgical plan. Once they opened the knee, it was determined Floyd needed microfracture surgery, which involved drilling into the bone.

The additional procedure caused bleeding in the joint, which in turn required a pain blocker. The lawsuit, which also names the anesthesiologist and two surgical assistants, contends that the pain blocker was administered negligently. The suit says that a nerve in his knee and surrounding muscles was paralyzed. While he can walk, the injury effectively shut down any chance of playing in the NFL.

Interesting legal questions

Medical malpractice involves not only technical medical details but complex legal issues. Sharif Floyd’s case may hinge on some unique legal aspects:

  • Defendants – It is common for a lawsuit to name virtually everyone involved, even though one party might be chiefly at fault. During litigation, some defendants may be dropped from the suit, or may settle out of court separately with the plaintiff even if the lawsuit against the others goes to trial.

  • Informed consent – There are risks with any surgery. But the surgeon has a duty to discuss specific risks, including complications that may occur. Was Floyd advised in advance that he might need microsurgery? Did he consent to the pain blocker procedure?

  • Future earnings – For a typical person, future earnings are based on your salary times your remaining working years. It’s more complicated for a professional athlete. The average NFL career is only three years. Floyd was in the fourth and final season of his rookie contract, earning approximately $2 million a year. But if he had played at a high level in the 2016 season, he would have been due for a new contract, presumably at much bigger “payday.” Thus he is seeking $180 million based on the earnings of other elite NFL players.

You don’t have to be a pro athlete to sue for medical malpractice. There are two key elements to a lawsuit. First, there must be tangible lasting injury or disability -- no harm, no foul. Secondly, there must be negligence on the part of the medical professionals, not just a bad outcome of treatment. A permanent injury is not necessarily malpractice, unless the doctors messed up or deviated from standard practices.

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