SUMMARIES WITH TRIAL ANALYSIS
$1,250,000 VERDICT – MEDICAL MALPRACTICE – SURGERY – FAILURE TO INSPECT FOR BOWEL DAMAGE DURING GALLBLADDER PROCEDURE – FAILURE TO DIAGNOSE DAMAGE FOR 32 HOURS AFTERWARDS DESPITE SYMPTOMS OF LEAKAGE – SEPSIS – MULTIPLE SURGERIES – EXTENDED ICU STAY – LACK OF INFORMED CONSENT ON RISKS AND ON UNLICENSED STUDENT ASSISTING IN SURGERY.
Tomkins County, NY
In this medical malpractice action, the plaintiff, in her mid 60s, who had undergone gall bladder surgery, contended that the defendant general surgeon negligently failed to conduct an inspection of portions of the bowel when the plaintiff exhibited signs and symptoms of a bowel laceration, including continuing severe pain and decreased urine output. The plaintiff contended that as a result, she developed sepsis and required an ICU stay and a number of additional surgeries. The plaintiff further contended that she should have been advised of the fact that a medical student would be assisting in the surgery.
The plaintiff contended that although the bowel is not in close proximity to the operative field, there is a danger, in view of the extensive length of the small in- testine, that it could migrate into an area in which it was more vulnerable. The plaintiff maintained that precautions, including tipping or swinging the plaintiff on the table during the surgery to permit gravity to keep the bowel away from the operative field, should have bene taken. The defendant maintained that such precautions were taken and that the bowel in- jury none-the-less occurred in the absence of negligence.
The plaintiff maintained that because of the sepsis, her condition became life threatening and that she was in the ICU for an approximate two-month period. The plaintiff required a number of surgeries, and re- quired a tracheostomy for a period. The plaintiff con- tended that the very significant scarring is permanent in nature. The plaintiff also contended that she will permanently suffer pain and gastric complaints, as well as dietary restrictions. The plaintiff made no income claims.
The jury found that the defendant should have in- formed the plaintiff that a student was assisting, but that a reasonable patient would have nonetheless undergone the surgery, and found for the defendant on this issue and further found that the plaintiff was adequately advised of the risks of a cut to the bowel prior to the surgery. They also found that the defen- dant was not negligent in lacerating the bowel during the surgery. The jury further found for the plaintiff on the issue of the failure to check the bowel for injury during the surgery and the failure to promptly diag- nose the laceration. They then awarded $1,250,000, including $250,000 for medical bills, $250,000 for past pain and suffering and $750,000 for future pain and suffering over 20 years.
The defendant further contended that the gall blad- der surgery was necessary and that a reasonable pa- tient would undergo the procedure irrespective of whether he/she was advised that a student was assist- ing. The plaintiff contended that although she needed the surgery, it was not emergent, that she had been in the hospital for several days as of the time of the surgery, and that if she had been so ad- vised, other arrangements would have been made.
Plaintiff’s general surgeon expert: David Befeller, MD from Westfield, NJ. Defendant’s general surgeon expert: Timothy Siegel, MD from Cooperstown, NY.
Adams vs. Cayuga Medical Center, et al. Index no. 0917/09; Judge Robert C. Mulvey, 06-29-11.
Attorneys for plaintiff: Peter T. Rodgers and Jacqueline M. Thomas of Lacy Katzen LLP in Rochester, NY.
The plaintiff’s general surgeon maintained that the defendant should have conducted an inspection of the bowel at the close of the surgery. The plaintiff fur- ther contended that she suffered severe pain that was greater than would be anticipated after the sur- gery, and that the continuation of this pain and other signs, including decreased urine output, should have alerted the defendant to the potential that the bowel had, in fact, been lacerated during the surgery. The plaintiff contended that if the injury had been discov- ered as of this time, the bowel could have been sim- ply sutured and the plaintiff would have avoided sepsis.
The jury specifically found that the defendant surgeon was causally negligent in failing to check the bowel for injury before closing the patient and causally negligent in failing to promptly diagnose the injury when the plaintiff showed signs and symptoms, including de- creased urine output. It is thought that this Tomkins County verdict was particularly significant, especially in view of the absence of any claim for lost wages. It is felt that the contrast between the routine nature of the gall bladder surgery, and the severe nature of the in- jury involving sepsis that required an approximate two month stay in the ICU, clearly substantially contributed to a jury response that is necessary for an award of this magnitude.
New York Jury Verdict Review & Analysis