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Jury sides with surgeon in hernia repair medical malpractice case — Defense verdict

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 29, 2021

Jury sides with surgeon in hernia repair medical malpractice case — Defense verdict

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 29, 2021

Type of action: Medical malpractice

Injuries alleged: Total colectomy and ileostomy

Name of case: Halbig v. Reichenbach

Court: Newport News Circuit Court

Case no.: CL19-1042

Tried before: Jury

Name of judge or mediator: Judge Christopher R. Papile

Special damages: Medical expenses of $1,118,951.48

Demand: $1,925,000

Offer: $250,000

Verdict or settlement: Verdict

Amount: Defense verdict

Attorneys for defendant (and city): Kathleen M. McCauley and Taylor D. Brewer, Richmond

Description of case: The 62-year-old plaintiff underwent hernia repair surgery performed by the defendant general surgeon. Plaintiff’s medical history was significant for heart disease, dyslipidemia, hypertension, two prior hernia repairs, a left colectomy, aortobifemoral bypass graft, CABG and a 51-year smoking history.

The hernia repair involved extensive lysis of adhesions but was otherwise unremarkable. The following day, the defendant returned the plaintiff to the operating room for concerns of a leak. Defendant identified two side-by-side enterotomies (holes) in a centimeter-long segment of small bowel, which he repaired. Defendant also identified an area of small intestine – remote from the area of the hernia repair – that looked like it was not receiving adequate blood supply. In an abundance of caution, he removed that portion of small intestine. The pathology report from the repair surgery indicated the margins of the dusky portion showed “ischemic change.”

The patient’s post-operative course was long and complex. He remained in the hospital for 15 days and experienced numerous issues, including sepsis and abdominal pain. Over the next several months, plaintiff was in and out of several hospitals and rehabilitation facilities with ongoing problems, primarily involving chronic diarrhea and weight loss. He was diagnosed with, among other things, CMV colitis, cryptosporidium and inflammatory bowel disease. Eight months following the initial hernia surgery, the plaintiff underwent emergency surgery. His colon was inflamed and contained several small perforations. It was removed in its entirety and an ileostomy was created. Plaintiff remained intubated in the ICU for several days and now requires a permanent colostomy bag.

Plaintiff claimed the defendant was negligent by failing to identify the enterotomies during the initial hernia surgery and by failing to take the plaintiff back for exploration and possible removal of alleged ischemic portions of the bowel in the months leading up to the bowel perforation. Defendant’s expert surgeon testified that bowel injuries are known complications of hernia surgery and that the defendant properly inspected the bowel for injuries prior to closing. There was no indication to return the patient to the OR in the ensuing months. Defendant’s gastroenterology expert testified that the cause of plaintiff’s chronic issues was inflammatory bowel disease, specifically, Crohn’s disease, from which he had suffered for decades undiagnosed. The defendant called experts in vascular surgery and infectious disease as well.

After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant surgeon. Plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, which motion was denied.


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