How Willie Miles died: The rest of the story

Last week brought a resolution of sorts to a horrific story of a patient’s death following knee surgery at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance in 2011. 

Willie Miles of South Los Angeles nearly bled to death on the operating table, and never recovered full consciousness before dying six months later. The Center for Health Reporting disclosed the story in June 2012 in partnership with the Torrance-based Daily Breeze and the Long Beach Press Telegram.

Reporter Brian Sumers of the Los Angeles News Group wrote Friday in the Breeze that Miles’ massive blood loss during that surgery prompted both a state fine and a legal settlement.


By Brian Sumers, Daily Breeze

State regulators have fined County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center $50,000 in connection with the case of a Los Angeles man who died six months after seemingly routine knee surgery, officials said Thursday.

The California Department of Public Health fine stems from the medical treatment of Willie Miles, who had gone to the Torrance-area hospital in August 2011 for a knee replacement. According to a lawsuit filed in September 2012 by Miles’ family in Los Angeles Superior Court, doctors cut a key artery during the surgery and were not immediately prepared with Miles’ blood type for a transfusion, as none had been ordered in advance.

When his sister, Michelle, saw her brother the day after the operation, she found him in the hospital’s intensive care unit, unresponsive and breathing with a ventilator. Several days later, doctors amputated his right leg above the knee. His body was swollen like a large balloon, Michelle told the Daily Breeze in 2012.

According to the suit, Miles suffered permanent brain damage and never regained consciousness. He died in February 2012 at age 54.

A report released by the health department refers to Miles as Patient B.

“Based on medical record review and interviews, the hospital failed to adequately monitor and intervene appropriately for serious medical/surgical conditions when Patient B lost a large amount of blood (2500 cc) during the total right knee replacement surgery,” the report said. “The failure to monitor and intervene in a timely manner during severe blood loss led to Patient B’s loss of heart rate and blood pressure, and consequently, the patient’s altered mental status.”

Phillip Rocha, a spokesman for the hospital, declined comment.

Miles’ family has recently reached a tentative legal settlement with the hospital, an attorney said Thursday.

The family’s lawyer, Sean M. Burke of Irvine, said the settlement amount, which must still be approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, is confidential. However, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975, caps noneconomic damages at $250,000.

The legislation was passed in response to expensive legal claims against doctors during the 1970s. But the cap is not tied to inflation and has never been raised. For decades, the law has kept lawsuit awards and settlements artificially low. Plaintiffs can recover money for items like medical costs, but not much else.

Opponents of the cap want to place a initiative on the 2014 ballot to change the law.

“We did OK for the family,” Burke said. “But there really weren’t any economic damages. We got a settlement that’s partial compensation.”

Miles’ mother, Veola Graddy, and daughters LaShawnda Miles and Evelyn Miles, will split the settlement, Burke said.

“They were pleased to get the case resolved and get it behind them,” Burke said.

The complication Miles suffered — a cut in the popliteal artery — is rare in knee replacement surgeries, a medical expert told the Daily Breeze in 2012. During the surgery, Mile lost five pints of blood. Most humans have about 10 to 12 pints in total.

“It’s a known possible complication, but it’s rare,” said Dr. Harpal Khanuja, director of hip and knee replacement surgery at the Rubin Institute at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

Brian Sumers can be reached at

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