Endometriosis surgery on a young woman: $483,351 award
A 17-year-old woman reported cramping and heavy bleeding during her menses. Her gynecologist suspected that the patient had endometriosis and recommended laparoscopic surgery with cauterization.
During surgery, the gynecologist found 2 metal staples in the patient’s pelvic region from a prior appendectomy. He continued with the surgery as planned, using monopolar cauterization to excise the endometriosis.
The following day, the patient sought emergency treatment for pain. Physicians discovered 2 perforations in her anterior rectum and performed an emergency colectomy. She spent 18 days in the hospital. When the colectomy was reversed 3 months later, she was hospitalized for 8 days and later developed a postoperative surgical site infection requiring IV antibiotics and weeks of wound care.
The patient was in the middle of her senior year of high school when she had the colectomy and could not return to normal activities. She was unable to graduate with her class and had to relinquish a college scholarship. As a result, she completed her senior year via homeschooling and graduated a year later.
PATIENT'S CLAIM: The gynecologist’s negligent use of the cautery device within millimeters of the staples caused the bowel injury and necessitated the colectomy. The electric current from the cautery device heated the staples, injuring the rectum, which became necrotic. While she had no long-term physical limitations, wearing the colostomy bag, missing her senior year, not being able to graduate with her class, and not being able to participate in typical senior year activities left her emotionally distressed.
PHYSICIAN'S DEFENSE: The staples were not found near the rectal injury. The injury was a known complication of cauterization, not a result of negligence.
VERDICT: A $588,351 California verdict was returned but was reduced to $483,351 because of the state cap on pain and suffering.
Sigmoid colon injury during hysterectomy
A 42-year-old woman had uterine fibroids that caused such heavy bleeding that she became anemic and required a transfusion. On June 26, she underwent laparoscopic-assisted supracervical hysterectomy performed by her primary ObGyn and an assisting ObGyn.
The next day, the patient developed pain and fever and her vital signs were unstable. The primary ObGyn called in a general surgeon. A CT scan showed a tear on the underside of the sigmoid colon. The general surgeon performed a laparotomy, resected the colon, and created a temporary colostomy. The colostomy reversal took place on September 25.
PATIENT'S CLAIM: The patient sued both ObGyns, alleging that they should have found the colon injury during surgery. The primary ObGyn settled before trial and the case continued against the assisting ObGyn. It was undisputed that one or both of the physicians caused the tear, but that was not the patient’s claim. The patient alleged that negligence occurred when the injury was not intraoperatively detected. Had the injury been found during surgery, a general surgeon could have performed a primary repair, saving the patient from further surgery and colostomy. The patient claimed mental anguish and embarrassment from the colostomy. Her abdomen is still tender and she has significant scarring.
PHYSICIAN'S CLAIM: There was no negligence. Nothing was unusual about the nature of the procedure, and nothing unusual was seen intraoperatively that would have led them to search for an injury. They performed adequate and appropriate exploration before closing. The linear tear on the underside of the sigmoid colon was very inconspicuous in size, shape, and location, and was away from the operative area. The injury likely occurred during manipulation of the sigmoid colon, which generally has to be retracted before the uterus can be removed. Even if the injury had been found intraoperatively, a general surgeon would have had to convert to laparoscopy to repair the colon.
VERDICT: After a settlement was reached with the primary gynecologist, a Texas defense verdict was returned for the assisting gynecologist.
These cases were selected by the editors of OBG Management from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska (www.verdictslaska.com). The information available to the editors about the cases presented here is sometimes incomplete. Moreover, the cases may or may not have merit. Nevertheless, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation and are meant to illustrate nationwide variation in jury verdicts and awards.
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