Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

Doctor being sued by former NFL player dies

By Elisabeth Arriero, Steve Lyttle and Karen Garloch
earriero@charlotteobserver.com, slyttle@charlotteobserver.com, kgarloch@charlotteobserver.com

A Charlotte surgeon died early Monday outside his apartment, hours before he was expected in court for opening arguments of a civil case in which he was a defendant in a lawsuit by former NFL player Samari Rolle.

Charlotte surgeon Craig Brigham, who lived in the 4400 block of Mullens Ford Road in Charlotte, was found dead about 7 a.m. Monday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police called it a “sudden/natural death investigation.”

“We are extremely sad to report that Dr. Craig Brigham passed away this morning from what appears to be causes related to an existing medical condition,” Blair Primis, a representative of OrthoCarolina where Brigham worked, said in a statement.

Brigham, 58, was facing a lawsuit, filed in 2011, that claimed he did not properly handle follow-up care after Rolle’s spinal fusion surgery in September 2008. Brigham and OrthoCarolina denied the claim, although they didn’t specify why in legal papers that they filed to answer the suit.

Rolle, a cornerback who played at Florida State University, was drafted by the Tennessee Oilers (now Titans) of the NFL and later played for the Baltimore Ravens.

He underwent surgery, performed by Brigham, on Sept. 30, 2008, to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra, according to court papers. The lawsuit claims that Brigham gave Rolle permission to resume playing too soon.

Brigham’s wife, Joan, said the trial weighed heavily on him.

“It was a big stress on him,” she said “He had to take off and push all of his patients back.”

But she also said she was confident the case would have favored Brigham.

“He would have won this case hands down,” she said.

On Monday, the case was declared a mistrial. Another trial is expected to be rescheduled.

Kent Brown, who’s representing Rolle, declined to comment on the pending case.

Sara Lincoln of Lincoln Derr LLC in Charlotte represented Brigham in the case. She called it a “terrible tragedy, a terrible loss.”

Brigham was a surgeon at the Spine Center, part of OrthoCarolina, a large orthopedics practice based in Charlotte. He had specialized in spine surgery since 1988 and was also chief of spine education for the Carolinas Medical Center residency program.

Last fall, he helped organize OrthoCarolina’s annual Oscar Miller Day symposium, named in honor of the late Dr. Oscar Miller, a longtime orthopedic surgeon in Charlotte.

Brigham went to medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago and completed a residency at Northwestern University McGaw Medical Center and a fellowship in orthopedic spine surgery at the State University of New York.

Brigham was also an accomplished decathlete, having held a high school decathlon record from 1972 to 2009.

He was training to compete for the 1980 Summer Olympics when the United States announced it would boycott the games because they were being held in Moscow.

Brigham had been in the news in recent weeks surrounding his assessment of an injury suffered by University of Georgia football player Jarvis Jones, who is expected to be a first-round selection in this week’s NFL draft.

Jones, an outside linebacker, suffered a neck injury, and one doctor diagnosed it as spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine). According to published reports, spinal stenosis is a serious condition that might scare teams away from drafting Jones.

Brigham examined Jones and instead diagnosed the problem as a “spinal cord concussion” and says the Georgia player has recovered.

On Monday, Dr. Patrick Connor, the head team physician for the Carolina Panthers who worked with Brigham at OrthoCarolina, described him as a caring physician who had a “sensational sense of humor.”

“He was smart and talented and very personable,” Connor said. “He could really relate to anyone who walked through the doors. … This is a huge loss for the medical community.”

While grieving with friends and family at her mother’s Foxcroft home, 27-year-old Emily Brigham remembered her father as an “unbelievable doctor, a committed husband and an unbelievable father.”

“He believed the responsibility of doctors was to make sure their patients were empowered and educated about their health,” she said.

“He wanted to make sure they weren’t taken advantage of.”

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a description of the surgery by the plaintiff’s lawyer that was based on another news report but not attributed to that organization. The unattributed material has been removed.)

Staff Researcher Maria David contributed

Arriero: 704-804-2637; Twitter: @earriero
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More