The “negligent and dangerous” actions of an Edina oral surgeon killed an Eden Prairie teenager as she was undergoing routine wisdom teeth extraction, the girl’s family is alleging in a lawsuit filed this week in Hennepin County District Court.
The medical malpractice/wrongful death suit against Dr. Paul Tompach, who continues to see patients under state licensing board restrictions, alleges that several of his missteps caused the death of Sydney Galleger in June 2015, shortly before the healthy student-athlete was to make college visits ahead of her senior year.
The lawsuit’s allegations about what Tompach did wrong early into the procedure mirror much of what the state Board of Dentistry investigation determined before it put him under indefinite restrictions starting in March 2016.
Those missteps included: incorrectly administering general anesthesia; failing to provide proper monitoring during the surgery; having untrained dental assistants monitor the patient; lax planning for a medical emergency; poor response to the patient going into cardiac arrest; and failing to inform the patient’s parents about the risks of general anesthesia.
“The decision to place [Galleger] under anesthesia without using [the proper] monitoring equipment is negligent and dangerous,” the suit alleged. “The evidence in this case will clearly and convincingly demonstrate that [Tompach] had deliberate disregard for the safety of his patients.”
Telephone and text messages were left Friday morning with Tompach seeking his reaction to the lawsuit.
The family’s legal action represents a change in thinking for the Gallegers, who came to know Tompach through his wife, the suit noted. The Star Tribune asked the teen’s mother, Diane, three months after Sydney’s death whether the family might sue the doctor, who also lives in Eden Prairie. “No, I don’t see anything like that,” she replied.
The Gallegers’ attorney, Kathleen Flynn Peterson, who is with the Robins Kaplan firm in Minneapolis, said Thursday that the Gallegers were not granting interviews. Peterson declined to comment on the case.
Along with detailing its allegations against Tompach, the suit also lays out a time line from when Galleger’s surgery began until paramedics rushed her unconscious to nearby Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina.
The surgery started at 9 a.m. on June 9. Between 9:15 and 9:20 a.m., Galleger’s heart rate fell dramatically. She had no pulse as she suffered cardiac arrest. At 9:31 a.m., a call was placed to 911 and CPR was begun before EMTs arrived.
EMTs worked on Galleger for about 20 minutes before taking her to the hospital. She died six days later from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Her organs were donated.
After having his license temporarily suspended by the state board in late January 2016 — an unusual action in Minnesota — the suspension was stayed about six weeks later but with several conditions.
Tompach continues practicing at his Edina Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery offices on France Avenue but is prevented from administering general anesthesia or sedation. However, he can contract with another qualified person to carry out those administrations at his practice.
Extraction of wisdom teeth is one of the most common of dental procedures, with adolescents and young adults most often the patients.
There have been other instances in the United States in recent years of patients suffering cardiac arrest during extraction of wisdom teeth and then dying. Among them: a 24-year-old Southern California man in 2013 and a 17-year-old girl in Maryland in 2011.
Also, jurors in a malpractice case in New Jersey reached an $11 million verdict in 2009 for a family whose 21-year-old son died following complications after wisdom-teeth surgery.
As far as damages being sought by the Gallegers, the suit said it is seeking more than $50,000, but it includes several points that could lead to a much higher payout should a court rule in the family’s favor or a settlement be reached.
The filing notes that the family absorbed $200,000 in medical, funeral and other expenses because of Sydney’s death. Also, the suit detailed what was ahead for a person so young as Sydney. Future prospects are often factors that courts weigh when assigning damage amounts.
Sydney Galleger, who was a diver on the school swim team and an Alpine skier, “was a popular, athletic, talented and beautiful young woman with a bright future ahead of her,” the suit read. “Sydney completed her junior year of high school in the spring of 2015 and planned to visit colleges with her family in the summer.”
Dental professionals in Minnesota are not specifically required by law to carry professional liability insurance, said Bridgett Anderson, executive director of the state’s dentistry board.
That said, a Minneapolis attorney long-involved in this area said she has rarely encountered any dental professional in independent practice who did not have malpractice insurance.
Minnesota Board of Dentistry records show no other disciplinary actions in Minnesota against Tompach, who also performs Botox injections and other cosmetic procedures as part of his practice. He did settle a malpractice suit in 1999 involving the removal of a patient’s teeth.
LeRoy Ericson, now in his 80s, went to Tompach to have some teeth extracted to make way for partials, but “he took all of them, instead of some of them,” said Mildred Ericson, speaking for her husband because he has difficulty hearing.
The two sides settled the suit for an amount Mildred Ericson could not recall, but “it ended up to be enough so LeRoy could buy a new truck.”