Final Verdict: Patient Knew Risks of Surgery
Many minor surgical procedures only carry a few small risks, as long as the surgeon prepares adequately and takes the necessary precautions. That doesn’t mean medical providers can proceed without informed consent — explaining the risks and possibilities to the patient completely — but it does mean there is less to be concerned about.
More invasive and significant procedures carry greater risks. In any situation involving major surgery, a patient and his or her doctor have to carefully weigh the decision. In some cases, the possible side effects and common complications make a surgical procedure too risky, whereas in other cases, the surgery is so important that not doing it is a greater risk. It’s vital that patients and physicians have clear and open communication before any procedure, so they can make the best possible decisions.
When medical mistakes happen during surgical procedures, it can be medical malpractice. However, side effects and complications which are known to be a risk of a given procedure aren’t typically instances of malpractice. Although doctors try their best to avoid complications, not every risk is preventable. If a patient understands the risks of a procedure and consents to it anyway, it is very unlikely that the patient will be able to bring a medical malpractice case if the procedure goes wrong.
This was the decision of a jury in Baltimore, Maryland on January 2019. Yvette Baker, a 50-year-old woman, went to Mercy Medical Center in September 2016 for an abdominal hysterectomy. In an abdominal hysterectomy, an incision is made in the lower part of the stomach to allow surgeons to remove the uterus intact. The only other surgical option for a hysterectomy involves removal through the vaginal canal, which requires dissection of the uterus during the procedure. The procedure was performed by Dr. Janelle Cooper, an obstetrician and gynecologist employed by Saint Paul Place Specialists.
Several weeks after the surgery, Yvette began experiencing incontinence and related symptoms. She went to Family Health Centers, where physicians recommended she receive a CT scan. Unfortunately, the CT scan showed that her ureter (the passage leading out from the bladder) was damaged and leaking. As a result of this, Yvette was admitted to Mercy Medical Center, where she remained for several days. She had to have tubes inserted to handle bladder and kidney function and required several additional surgeries before the damage could be fully repaired. The entire ordeal was painful, embarrassing, and unpleasant for Yvette, and she sued Dr. Cooper for medical malpractice.
There was no question that Yvette’s injuries were significant and severe, or that her subsequent treatment was necessary. Clearly, she had real damages. The question considered by the jury was not the validity of her damages, but whether those damages were the result of actual medical malpractice, or just an unavoidable complication in a high-risk procedure.
Yvette’s medical malpractice attorneys argued that her injuries were caused by a mistake during surgery, when the ureter was accidentally severed by Dr. Cooper. However, the defense attorneys disagreed, with experts testifying that an immediate injury would have caused immediate problems, while Yvette’s started much later. They argued that the damage was caused by cauterization in the uterine area, which was a necessary and known part of the procedure, and that Yvette had been informed of the risks in advance. If you have questions about possible medical malpractice, call an attorney like Cohen & Cohen, P.C. today.
After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict of no malpractice.