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CNY veteran paralyzed in surgery at Syracuse VA awarded $22.3M

Syracuse-VA-Medical-Center-2014 (DASonnenfeld/WikiCommons)

A malpractice award to a Cortland military veteran over a surgery at the Syracuse VA Medical Center that left him a quadriplegic 16 years ago has been increased by nearly $18 million.

U.S. Senior District Court Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. issued a decision Tuesday awarding Charles Malmberg $22.3 million.

Malmberg, 60, sued the VA in 2006, claiming he was injured during surgery at the VA in 2004.

Scullin awarded him $4.5 million in 2014. But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that Scullin made a mistake when he subtracted $1.2 million from the award to reflect the cost of services Malmberg could get for free at the VA. The appeals court ruled Malmberg should not be required to get care at the facility that caused his quadriplegia. It also said Scullin should consider increasing the award.

In his initial filing Malmberg asked for $6 million. But his attorneys argued Malmberg should be allowed to increase the claim amount because his condition deteriorated significantly. Malmberg could walk using a brace and a walker when he first sued, but he subsequently lost use of both legs, according to court papers.

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The court raised his award to $5.5 million in 2018, but refused to increase the maximum possible claim. Malmberg appealed again. In August, the appeals court ruled Malmberg’s maximum possible claim should be raised to $25 million.

The $22.3 million award issued Tuesday includes $18 million for past and future pain and suffering. The rest of the money is to cover future medical expenses.

Robert Nichols, a Buffalo attorney who represented Malmberg, said his client depends on nurses and aides to assist him at home.

“He didn’t deserve what happened,” Nichols said. “Hopefully when the money is paid, he will get better living arrangements and an improved quality of his life.”

Nichols was assisted by Syracuse attorney Alan Pierce.

Thomas Spina, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District, said his office is reviewing the decision and has not determined if it will appeal.

Malmberg went to the VA hospital in November 2004 for surgery to correct weakness, numbness and tingling in his left arm, court papers said.

The surgery was to remove a degenerative disc and bony growths. When he awoke after the operation, he complained that his legs were weak, court papers said. An X-ray and MRI revealed that he suffered from mild spinal cord impingement at multiple points, the papers said.

His lawsuit accused the VA of departing from accepted medical practices before, during and after the surgery and that those departures resulted in his permanent injuries.

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