August 6, 2012 — Whitney Engler has been awarded $7.5 million in punitive damages and $5.2 million in compensatory damages for skin necrosis, frostbite, and nerve damage caused by a Breg Polar Care cold therapy machine. She was prescribed the device in 2003, when she was 15 years old, by Dr. David Chao — head physician for the Chargers. Engler claims that she used the cold-therapy device exactly as Chao directed, but it was so cold that it caused severe frostbite, tissue damage, permanent injuries, and disfigurement.
Engler also alleges that Chao failed to warn her about the risks of using the device, despite the fact that Chao had already been sued and settled a lawsuit for cold-therapy injuries in 1999. Engler also claims that Chao failed to disclose that he owned a medical device company that profited every time he prescribed one of the cold-therapy products.
The jury found that Dr. Chao, his medical device company Oasis Sports Medical Group, and the Breg Inc. (the Carlsbad-based company that manufactures the cold-therapy device) were all partially responsible for Engler’s injuries. Chao was ordered to pay $500,000 and Berg must pay Engler $7 million.
Chao is also facing legal action from the California Medical Board, which is seeking to suspend his license to practice medicine. Chao has faced numerous malpractice lawsuits since the 1990s. The Board found him negligent in the care of three patients. One patient had nerve damage during a hip resurfacing procedure, another had a lacerated blood vessel during hip surgery, and a third suffered a blood clot and pseudo-aneurism while undergoing knee surgery. Chao also failed to tell the board that he was convicted of drunk-driving.
The Medical Board has accused Chao of failing to adequately manage surgical complications and failing to inform his patients about the risks of surgery.
The Polar Care cold-therapy device is essentially a cooler and pump, attached to a tube, with a dressing that is supposed to be wrapped around an injured or recovering body part (such as a shoulder or knee). The patient fills the cooler with ice, and then the ice-cold fluid is pumped into the dressing. It works similar to an ice-pack — but unlike an ice-pack, the device stays ice-cold for hours. In some cases, patients with injuries can go numb and not realize that they are being seriously injured by frostbite.
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