Recently, Partner Scott D. Lane helped to right a serious wrong when he negotiated a substantial settlement of $850,000 during mediation for a client who was critically injured during a hernia repair surgery.
It all started when his client, a 53-year-old Chicago man, went to his primary care doctor complaining about a bulge in his stomach. His physician diagnosed a ventral hernia—a weak spot in his abdomen where a portion of the intestine was protruding through and creating the lump. Because a ventral hernia will not heal on its own, the doctor referred him to a local surgeon.
The surgeon felt that the hernia was a consequence of his previous abdominal surgery, and she agreed to perform the hernia repair surgery. The procedure started out as a minimally invasive laparoscopic hernia repair, where the surgeon uses several small incisions, a camera, and some thin surgical instruments to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, the surgeon pierced the man’s intestine with a surgical instrument during the procedure. The instrument went through one side of the intestine and came out the other, causing what is known as a through and through injury.
The surgeon noticed signs of the injury and immediately converted the procedure to a traditional open hernia repair surgery. However, she found and repaired only one of the two intestinal wounds before completing the surgery.
The man went home later that day. However, instead of starting to feel better, his condition grew worse over the next two days, and he experienced severe abdominal pain, nausea, and progressive weakness. He called the surgeon’s office to discuss his condition, but he was unable to speak directly to her. Instead, he left a message with the receptionist, who promised to pass his complaints of severe pain and nausea along to the surgeon. Somehow, the message was “lost,” and the surgeon was never informed of his call.
As a result, over the next few days, the man became gravely ill with fever, increased nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and a distended abdomen. Six days after the surgery, his daughter brought him to the emergency room at Swedish Covenant Hospital where he had a CT scan that revealed two large abscesses—pockets of inflamed tissue filled with pus—in his abdomen.
The next day, the same surgeon performed exploratory surgery to determine the cause of the problem. By this time, the intestinal injury had turned into a large abscess and a generalized peritoneal infection—an infection in the thin layer of tissue that covers the inside of the abdomen. During the exploratory surgery, the surgeon was able to find and repair the intestinal injury she had originally missed. However, she also had to remove nearly eight inches of the man’s small intestine, leaving the incision open for drainage.
Over the next 23 months, he endured a skin graft, multiple hospitalizations, additional surgery, and numerous follow-up appointments. He was left with significant scarring on his thigh and abdomen, and he still takes over-the-counter medication for pain.
The medical malpractice case settled with Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, the healthcare organization that employed the surgeon who caused and then failed to repair the intestinal injury and the receptionist who failed to pass along the client’s message to the surgeon.