Shelly Gerrans was a homemaker, a loving wife, and a caring mother to three young children. When she needed a hysterectomy, she and her husband Larry weren’t worried. They had insurance through Larry’s employer that would cover the procedure. What they didn’t imagine, however, was the possibility that medical negligence would completely derail their lives.
Shelly went in for the surgery in the winter of 2006 and it seemed to have gone well. But by August she had chronic, severe pelvic pain. She was told that she was just healing and the pain was normal, and given painkillers. There was never a follow-up pelvic exam. Then, over the course of six weeks, Shelly began to lose feeling in her legs.
One afternoon Shelly collapsed on the kitchen floor, unable to stand. From the waist down, she had become paralyzed. X-rays revealed the source of the pain and paralysis — a uterine manipulator had been left inside of her abdomen during the hysterectomy. Shelly was rushed into emergency surgery to have the device removed, but the damage had already been done.
The Gerrans’ found a lawyer who was willing to take their case to court. However, a law passed in California in 1975 severely limited compensation for everything Shelly had endured. Because she was a stay-at-home mother, and they had insurance, her economic damages were minimal. And, in the eyes of this outdated law, Shelly’s life as an able-bodied, full-time mother was capped at a maximum of $250,000. The Gerrans’ troubles got worse during the 2008 financial crisis. Larry lost his job, including his insurance, and they were bankrupted by medical bills. Shelly still had lots of recovery and physical therapy ahead of her that her settlement failed to pay for.
“We lost our home, we lost everything. There was no way we could keep up with the ongoing medical costs after I lost my job,” Larry said, “All because of a doctor’s negligence.”