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$12.7 Million Award In Polar Care Cold-Therapy Lawsuit


August 6, 2012 — A jury has awarded Whitney Engler $7.5 million in punitive damages for frostbite and skin necrosis injuries caused by the Polar Care cold-therapy medical device, on top of $5.2 million in compensatory damages for economic losses, pain and suffering.

Dr. David Chao, head physician for the Chargers, prescribed Engler the device when she was 15 years old. Engler claims she used the Polar Care cold-therapy device exactly as directed, but suffered from frostbite that cause severe tissue damage, permanent injuries, and disfigurement.

Despite the fact that Chao had already settled a lawsuit for injuries caused by the Polar Care cold therapy machine, he failed to inform Engler that the device could cause serious injuries. He also did not inform Engler that his medical device company profited financially for every device he prescribed to patients.

The San Diego Superior Court jury ruled that Dr. Chao, Breg Inc., and Chao’s medical device company Oasis Sports Medical Group were all responsible for Engler’s injuries. Dr. Chao must pay $500,000 and Breg Inc. must pay $7 million.

The cold-therapy device is basically a cooler that pumps ice-cold water through a tube and into a dressing that is wrapped around an injured body-part — a shoulder or knee, for example. It works similar to an ice-pack, but unlike an ice-pack, the cold-therapy device can stay ice-cold for several hours. When a patient places the device on an injured body part, the flesh becomes numb, and the patient has no idea that they are damaging tissue with frostbite.

The California Medical Board is seeking to suspend Dr. Chao’s medical license due to negligent care for three other patients — one who had nerve damage after a hip resurfacing procedure in 2007, one who had blood vessel lacerations during a similar procedure, and a third who had a blood clot and pseudo-aneurism after knee surgery in 2010. Chao also faced a lawsuit in 1999 over injuries from the Polar Care device, but that lawsuit settled in 2002. The Board also reprimanded Chao in 2007 for failing to disclose a drunken-driving conviction on state forms, as required by law.

The Board accused Chao of failing to inform patients about the risks of certain surgical procedures. He is also accused of failing to adequately manage complications that occurred after the operations.

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