Jury clears PA doctor, but awards $100,000 to girl who's throat caught on fire during surgery

David Yates Apr. 12, 2007, 12:00pm

Ron Rainey

Dr. Nabil Ghabrial never stopped caressing his crucifix necklace during his eight-day trial. His prayers were answered on Thursday, April 12, as jurors cleared him of all negligence charges.

Ghabrial, a former Port Arthur doctor, was on trial for malpractice this week in a strange case that involved a 6-year-old girl's throat bursting into flames during surgery.

He was administering anesthesia (100 percent oxygen) at the time of the incident while another physician performed the surgery.

According to Dale and Miranda Grangers' (the plaintiffs) petition, which was filed in the Jefferson County District Court on Dec. 5, 2002, the girl underwent surgery on Dec. 18, 2000, for a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, direct laryngoscopy and rigid bronchoscopy.

During the procedure, the girl's throat literally caught on fire. The fire began when a medical machine similar to a soldering iron either pierced the plastic tube inside the girl's throat, or the device sparked and ignited with 100 percent oxygen leaking from the tube.

However, medical records and expert testimony provided by both the defendant and plaintiff indicated the team performing the operation responded immediately, dousing the fire before it caused serious harm.

"It is my job to act as the (girl's) guardian angel," Ghabrial testified, adding that he was able to extinguish the fire, pull out the inflamed tube and re-incubate the girl in less than a minute.

Jurors faulted Dr. Don Duplan, the attendee surgeon performing the procedure, not Ghabrial, for failing to meet an ordinary standard of care. However, jurors still awarded the Grangers' more than $100,000 in damages.

Ron Rainey, the plaintiffs' attorney, had asked the jury to award more than $1 million in damages during his closing arguments.

Medical records and doctors notes submitted as evidence stated that the girl suffered from "mild hoarseness" after the surgery, but that she would recover 99 percent of her voice, making further surgery not necessary.

The couple was suing for medical expenses, pain, the loss of enjoyment of life, lost earning capacity and the mental anguish imposed on their daughter.

Dale Granger testified that his daughter has become increasingly self-conscious since the surgery, saying the kids at school used to tease her for having a raspy voice and that she must now drink a fluid while eating her meals.

"She thinks someone is always watching her," Dale Granger said.

He also testified that his daughter has many friends and enjoys a vigorous school life.

The petition originally listed the Port Arthur Day Surgery clinic, the Golden Triangle Anesthesia Group and Doctors Duplan and Ghabrial as defendants but was later amending to solely fault Ghabrial.

The Grangers were represented by Houston attorney Rainey of Richard Haynes & Associates.

Attorney John Marshall was represented Ghabrial.

Judge Donald Floyd presided over the case in the Jefferson County 172nd District Court.

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