Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Plastic surgery case can go to trial, appeals court rules

Amy Stevens//June 14, 2013

Plastic surgery case can go to trial, appeals court rules

Amy Stevens//June 14, 2013

A plaintiff who suffered nerve damage during surgery can go forward with her case against a pair of doctors who treated her, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled.

A trial court had previously granted summary judgment to the defendants, saying there was no evidence of direct negligence.

In 2006 Nancy L. C. Williams underwent more than six hours of surgery to remove skin tissue following significant weight loss. Dr. H. Humphreys of the Plastic Surgery Center performed the surgery along with anesthesiologist, Dr. James Brown of Asheville Anesthesia Associates.

After Williams was placed under anesthesia, she was positioned on her side with one arm above her head and the other arm down. When the surgery was completed on one side, Ms. Williams was repositioned so that the other arm was above her head.

When Williams awoke after the surgery, she was unable to move her arms due to extensive nerve damage. Eventually William suffered permanent loss of the use of one arm.

Williams filed suit against defendants, alleging that Humphreys and Brown, as well as their respective assistant nurses, negligently failed to properly position her while she was under anesthesia. The defendants filed answers denying the complaint, and requested a motion for summary judgment.

The trial court heard extensive testimony from five experts who stated that while they could not state exactly how Williams had been positioned, they could deduce her injuries were due to improper positioning.

The defendants argued that there must be evidence of direct negligence on the part of the physicians, versus a mere inference. The trial court agreed and granted the defendants summary judgment. Williams appealed, arguing that summary judgment should only be granted when there is no question of the facts of the case.

“A plaintiff typically may not infer negligence on the part of the defendant due solely to an injury. However, a trial court may under limited circumstances permit an inference of negligence from an injury,” said Williams’ attorney, Joe McGuire of Asheville law firm, McGuire, Woods, and Bissette. “In this case, several of the plaintiff’s experts testified that the severe nerve injury to [Williams’] brachial plexus does not occur in the absence of negligence.”

Finding that Williams’ experts had offered sufficient testimony to infer negligence on the part of the defendant, the appellate court agreed.

“Summary judgment is [only] appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact,” wrote Judge Martha Geer.

As to the expert’s suggestion of negligence, the court explained that Williams’ case was exactly the sort of case for which the rules for inference were designed.

“The expert testimony must establish that the connection between the medical negligence and the injury is probable, not merely a remote possibility,” Geer wrote. “While the experts in [other cases] simply presumed negligence from the fact of the injury, Ms. Williams’ experts identified the precise negligence that resulted in the injury: malpositioning of Ms. Williams during the surgery.”

A hearing date for the trial has not yet been set.

The 15-page decision is Williams v. Humphreys (Lawyers Weekly No. 13-16-0526) and can be found at


Top Legal News

See All Top Legal News


See All Commentary