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Surgeon delays operation for large bowel obstruction – $2,000,000 Verdict

The plaintiff, a 54-year-old Florida resident staying in Weems, Va., went to the emergency department at Rappahannock General Hospital on a Saturday afternoon with 24 hours of abdominal pain and other symptoms. The radiologist interpreting the abdominal CT scan was suspicious for bowel obstruction versus ileus, and he recommended sigmoidoscopy to rule out any obstruction.

The emergency physician consulted the defendant general surgeon. The surgeon admitted the patient to the hospital with a working diagnosis of C-Diff colitis, despite the fact that diarrhea (the hallmark symptom of C-Diff) was not present.

The defendant surgeon performed no diagnostic studies on Sunday. On Monday, he ordered a barium enema that confirmed complete large bowel obstruction. Nevertheless, the defendant waited until the following day, Tuesday, to operate. In the interim, the patient’s cecum perforated. Fecal contamination of the abdomen caused peritonitis, sepsis and a number of other complications.

The patient’s family eventually arranged to transfer him to VCU Medical Center, where he stayed for five weeks and underwent multiple corrective surgeries. The patient eventually returned to most of his previous activities, but he continues to wear a colostomy bag due to the high-risk nature of a reversal surgery.

Plaintiff’s counsel originally filed the case in state court and conducted extensive discovery. Because the defendant surgeon was the only general surgeon in Lancaster County, the plaintiff elected to nonsuit the action and re-file in federal court for trial. The defense never made a settlement offer.

Type of action:
Medical malpractice
Name of case: Wendell Waggener v. Northern Neck Surgical Associates Inc. and Steven J. Oltermann MD
Court: U.S. District Court, Eastern District, Richmond Division
Case No.: 3:09CV281
Tried before: Jury
Name of judge: Robert E. Payne
Special damages: $411,000 in medical bills
Verdict or Settlement: Verdict
Date: Jan. 8, 2010
Amount: $2,000,000
Insurance carrier: Professional’s Advocate
Plaintiff’s attorney: Jonathan M. Petty, Richmond

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