Woman awarded $1.7M for laser eye surgery blindness

A Kentucky jury has awarded $1.7 million to a woman who went legally blind in her left eye after laser surgery. It's the largest award given so far connected to the eye procedure.

Tonya Oliver lost most of the vision in her left eye after four laser surgeries during a 10-month period.

Laser eye surgery is intended to correct disorders such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism (distorted vision).

A jury ruled in Oliver's favour in November against Thomas Abell who was found to be 100 per cent at fault for the surgery that damaged her cornea.

The Kentucky suit is the latest in a series involving laser eye surgery that has topped $1 million. Most are medical malpractice claims alleging the doctor made mistakes when cutting the cornea or using the laser bema to sculpt.

The Kentucky verdict is being appealed.

Oliver was satisfied by Abell's services when he eliminated nearsightedness in her left eye after the first surgery. Six months later she returned for "enhancement" surgery to fix astigmatism in the eye.

According to Oliver's lawyer, Abell allegedly operated on the wrong axis of her eye.

"The result was he doubled her astigmatism instead of correcting it," says lawyer Thomas Herren. "On the following day, when the patch was removed Tonya could not see the big E on the eye chart."

The jury also determined the doctor tried to conceal his mistake from Oliver by performing two subsequent operations.

"Because of the massive number of these surgeries, there will continue to be problems," predicted lawyer Richard Robinson, co-chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's laser eye surgery litigation group.

Some 100,000 surgeries are done every year in Canada. It's performed in 70 clinics across the country.

The procedure has come under increasing scrutiny because of concerns it might affect night vision. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has advised officers not to get laser eye surgery because of that.

Many athletes such as golfers Tiger Woods and Mike Weir and Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys have undergone the procedure and been satisfied.

Every procedure has its risks. For laser eye patients there are several side effects that could occur:

  • some experience a "halo" effect
  • others have reported seeing "starbursts," bright glares from lights such as headlights or taillights
  • there is a risk of infection or delayed healing
  • under-correction or over-correction may also occur