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Incomplete Operation Resulting in Death

CATEGORIES: Wrongful Death Surgical Errors CASE LOCATION: Allegheny Co., PA. CLASSIFICATION: Seven Figure Recoveries

The Flaherty Case

In this case, we represented the Estate of our deceased client, Susan Flaherty, a 54-year old single woman who died from complications brought on by a wrong operation.

Susan consulted with the Defendant surgeon for his surgical opinion for Clostridium difficile colitis (“C-diff”) in a setting of presumed Crohn’s disease (C-diff is basically an antibiotic-associated diarrhea and colitis). The surgeon advised Susan that a total abdominal colectomy (a colon resection with ileostomy bag) would be performed with the option for reversal. The next day, the surgeon performed the surgery.

Since the pathology report from the surgery showed no evidence of Crohn’s disease, the surgeon informed Susan that she was a good candidate for the reversal surgery. The surgeon was to: (1) disconnect Susan’s colon from her abdominal wall; (2) then reconnect it to her rectum. Unfortunately, although the surgeon disconnected the colon from her abdominal wall, he failed to reconnect it to the rectum, creating a complete bowel obstruction.

The next day, Susan was discharged to home, where over the next two days, she became quite ill. Susan was then readmitted to the hospital with a dramatic increase in her amount of pain. After the surgeon was notified, he “double-checked” his office records, realized his grave mistake and that he needed to relieve the complete obstruction of her bowel that he created three days earlier, and took Susan back for surgery. Three days later, when Susan’s condition was deteriorating, the surgeon performed another surgery on her for presumed intra abdominal sepsis. Susan remained deathly ill for the ensuing 3-months and then died from infection.

On behalf of our client’s Estate (Susan’s four siblings), we brought suit against the surgeon and the hospital.

In his deposition, when attempting to explain the mistake, the surgeon placed blame on the circulating nurse for telling him that he was only to disconnect Susan’s colon from her abdominal wall (the first part of the intended surgery). However, although that has some validity, the surgeon was very familiar with Susan’s medical history, met with her in his office a few weeks prior to the surgery to review the intended correct surgery, had Susan sign a surgical consent form which listed the intended correct surgery, and even had illustrations in his office notes of the intended correct surgery.

As for the circulating nurse, she breached the standard of care by failing to follow the hospital’s policy regarding a “surgical pause.” Specifically, the circulating nurse was negligent by failing to clarify the correct surgical procedure with Susan, the surgeon, and other health care personnel involved in the case. Furthermore, had the circulating nurse followed the policy and the standard of care, she would have noticed the discrepancy between the surgical procedure listed on the surgical consent and the surgical procedure listed on the operating room schedule.

After a jury was empanelled, but prior to opening statements, the case settled for a 7-figure sum with each party contributing to the settlement.