Doctor Sued for Decorating Patient’s Face with Stickers in Surgery

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Veronica Valdez court exhibit

They probably don’t teach doctors anything about this in medical school, so here’s a lesson for them from real life. Patients generally don’t like to have their faces decorated with stickers while they are unconscious and undergoing surgery.

Dr. Patrick Yang, an anesthesiologist, found this out the hard way when his patient at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in October 2011 sued him after being shown a picture of her festooned face by the nursing assistant who took it.

Veronica Valdez, who had worked at the hospital for 13 years, was on the operating table for finger surgery. While she was out cold, Yang cut up medication labels, colored them and stuck them on her face to create teardrops on her cheek and a mustache.

Everyone who was conscious had a good laugh. Yang, who knew Valdez, said in a deposition that he thought she would too. “I don't recall my state of mind except that I thought she would think that was funny, so I did that so she would get a kick out of it.”

She did not, and neither did her attorney. “It really ruined my client’s career of 13 years,” Andrew Ryan told the Torrance Daily Breeze. “It's just really unfortunate and it changed her life forever.” The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Valdez’s head was positioned to keep her mouth open while those in attendance made “a crude sexual joke.”

The woman who took the pictures, Patricia Gomez, told the authorities that she did not post them on the Internet and erased them from her phone. But others testified they saw the photos on Facebook.

When Valdez and her attorney found out what happened, they complained to hospital authorities, who disciplined Yang. The doctor and his Torrance Anesthesia Medical Group were suspended for two weeks, but Yang did not lose his hospital privileges. A statement from the hospital said the incident was reported to the Joint Commission (a state accreditation organization) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which chose not to take any action. The California Department of Public Health is conducting an investigation.

Valdez’s lawsuit, which is due to be heard in January, is asking for damages from the hospital, Yang and his medical group for violation of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. The hospital has a motion for dismissal pending before the court.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Doctor Admits Decorating Unconscious Patient’s Face, Thought She’d “Get a Kick out of It” (by Larry Altman, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Surgery Photo Leads to Privacy Lawsuit Against Torrance Memorial (by Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times)

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