Nearly seven years after his wife died in surgery, a police officer from New Jersey has won $13 million for him and his children in a medical malpractice suit.
In November 2011, Cheryl Raefski went into surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. The procedure was to remove a polyp from her colon. A homemaker from Kearny, New Jersey, Raefski was just 43 years old when colorectal surgeon Dr. Christian Hirsch operated on her.
By scientists’ estimates, the human body contains between 75 and 100 trillion cells, but Hirsch did not realize that he was affecting the wrong ones on Raefski. According to the Raefski family’s lawyer, Judith Livingston, Hirsch did not notice that during the procedure, he had burned a portion of Raefski’s small bowel.
After the surgery, Raefski was in terrible pain. According to hospital records, she rated the pain a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale, even when she was on the strongest painkillers possible. Despite this rating, Dr. Hirsch did not order a CAT scan until four days later. According to Livingston, the scan detected a severe infection that was causing the patient’s pain and which was a result of Hirsch’s mistake.
As the doctors were preparing her to go into surgery again, Raefski went into septic shock and died on Dec. 15, 2011.
“They hurt me. They hurt me really bad,” Raefski told her husband, Darren Raefski, just before she died.
Darren sued Hirsch in 2012, soon after Raefski died from the infection. He filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, one of the five most common types of personal injury cases along with auto accidents, premises liability, product liability, and wrongful death claims.
According to Livingston, Hirsch was clearly negligent when treating Raefski. Not only was there the botched operation, but Livingston pointed to his ignoring of Raefski’s excruciating pain after the surgery as well.
Experts say that the amount of civil cases that actually reach trial in federal courts is only about 1%, significantly down from the 11.5% of federal civil cases that went to trial in 1962. After years of routine delays in the state court system, Raefski’s case finally became part of that small percentage and made it to a Manhattan jury in November of 2018. The jury took less than a day to reach their verdict. They found Hirsch guilty of negligence and awarded the Raefski family $13 million.
When Darren told his and Cheryl’s children about the verdict, he let them know that it was a sign that their mother was still watching over them. He hoped it would bring the same comfort to Madison, 17, and twins Kyle and Paige, 13, that it brought to him.
“I know nothing can bring my wife back, but at least we know she’s still watching over us,” Darren told the New York Post.
Each of the family’s children will receive $3 million from the total award and the rest will go to Darren.