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Halifax banker who lost leg after hip surgery awarded $765,572

A doctor must pay David Robbins $765,572 for giving bad advice to the Halifax banker. Robbins lost part of his leg after hip replacement surgery. - File

A judge has ordered a doctor to pay $765,572 for giving bad advice to Halifax banker David Robbins, who lost part of his leg after hip replacement surgery.

Robbins, now 59, was in his late 40s when he went to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Gross about pain in his right hip. Gross performed an “uneventful total hip replacement” on him in early 2012, Justice James Chipman said in a written decision released Tuesday.  

But a week later, Robbins started experiencing “intense pain in his lower leg," said the judge.

Robbins called the surgeon’s office, but got a message that Gross was away. So instead, the banker tried one of two numbers provided and reached Dr. Arpun Bajwa, the on-call orthopedic resident. 

'Disagreement between the parties'

“There is disagreement between the parties as to the telephone conversation between Mr. Robbins and Dr. Bajwa. Mr. Robbins says he was re-assured such that he did not seek immediate medical attention. Dr. Bajwa says she did not re-assure Mr. Robbins but, rather, directed him to Dr. Gross, his family physician or the emergency department,” Chipman said.

Either way, Robbins didn’t go to the emergency department until three days later.  

“When he did, he was in a worsening condition and seen on an urgent basis,” said the judge. “He was referred to vascular surgery and after several surgeries blood flow was restored to his right lower leg; however, his left leg function could not be restored. Ultimately, Mr. Robbins underwent a below the knee left leg amputation.” 

Robbins sued both Gross and Bajwa. 

“He says Dr. Bajwa gave advice falling below the standard of a first year orthopedic resident,” Chipman said. 

“The claim against Dr. Gross is that, in effect, he should not have put Dr. Bajwa in a position to answer Mr. Robbins’ questions. Both defendant doctors vigorously contest liability. They add that there are also significant causation issues such that Mr. Robbins has not proven that his amputation is on account of any alleged negligence.” 

Robbins moved here 34 years ago and began his career with RBC Commercial Banking. He married his wife, Natalie, in 1998. They don’t have children. 

Bajwa completed the five-year orthopedic residency program in 2016 through Dalhousie University and the QEII. She has since been diagnosed with cancer.  

Bajwa, who now lives in Delta, B.C., “describes herself as ‘getting back to healthy’ and assisting with orthopedic surgery,” said the judge.  

He focused much of his analysis on the Feb. 6, 2012, call Robbins made to Bajwa.  

“Prior to the events of 2012, he was a very healthy nearly fifty year old male who regularly engaged in these activities, along with hiking, while on vacation. Without question, Mr. Robbins’ mobility has been affected and this will continue to be the case even in the event of a more advanced prosthesis.” 

- Justice James Chipman

'Diligence and determination'

“Given Mr. Robbins’ demonstrated diligence and determination, I believe that had he been told to present for a physical examination, he would have done so,” Chipman said. “Instead, he was wrongly re-assured that his problem was not significant. He relied on professional medical advice which assuaged his concerns when it should have done otherwise.” 

The advice she gave Robbins did not meet the standard of care of a first year orthopedic resident, said the judge. 

“I pause here to acknowledge – based on the evidence of all of the orthopedic experts – that had Dr. Bajwa advised Mr. Robbins to go to his family doctor or the emergency department, that such advice – in the proper context – would have met the standard. Here, however, the totality of the evidence persuades me that if Dr. Bajwa provided such advice, it was only during the initial part of the conversation. Critically, I have found that once she listened to Mr. Robbins describe his symptoms, she then reassured him, and that this reassurance caused his delay in presenting for a required physical examination.” 

The judge dismissed the claim again Gross.  

“In brief, the claim is that Dr. Gross’ phone message should not have stated that Mr. Robbins could phone the on call orthopedic resident about his questions or concerns, because orthopedic residents are not capable of dealing with such calls. The claim is, in effect, an attack on the organizational set up of an orthopedic department in a teaching hospital such as the QE II.” 

Negligence caused injury

The judge found “Bajwa negligent and that her negligence caused Mr. Robbins’ injury.” 

Robbins is now managing director of the RBC’s Corporate Client Group within the Atlantic region.   

The judge looked at his salary, bonus and dividend income for 2013-2019. “This demonstrated steadily progressing income, from approximately $222,000.00 in 2013 to $404,000.00 in 2018. The next year, 2019, represented the first year that Mr. Robbins’ income trended down, largely on account of a lower bonus, due to factors unrelated to his performance.” 

Quality of life 

This past March, Robbins and his wife moved from Fall River to a bungalow on Long Lake in Mount Uniacke.  

“In terms of general damages, the amputation has had a significant impact on Mr. Robbins’ quality of life,” said Chipman. “Shortly after the amputation, on the advice of his family doctor, Mr. Robbins saw a psychiatrist. He attended two sessions. Mentally, he has been most stoic and shown remarkable resiliency. Undoubtedly, he has received the love and support of friends and family, especially his wife.” 

Due to his amputated leg, Robbins has “significantly curtailed" golfing and walking, said the judge. “Prior to the events of 2012, he was a very healthy nearly fifty year old male who regularly engaged in these activities, along with hiking, while on vacation. Without question, Mr. Robbins’ mobility has been affected and this will continue to be the case even in the event of a more advanced prosthesis.” 

Robbins has been dealing with his injuries for over eight years, said Chipman, who awarded him $210,000 in general damages, plus $45,000 in pre-judgement interest. “Nearing 60 years of age, he will remain an amputee for the rest of his life.” 

The judge awarded Robbins $63,000 for lost income. Chipman also awarded the banker $30,000 for loss of past and future valuable services, such as work he would have done around the house including snow shoveling and lawn care. 

The judge awarded Robbins, who wants a water-proof, submersible prosthetic leg, $417,572 to cover his future care costs.   

Robbins declined comment when reached by phone Tuesday. 

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