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Shoulder Injury During Gallbladder Surgery

CATEGORIES: Surgical Errors CASE LOCATION: Allegheny Co., PA. CLASSIFICATION: Substantial Recoveries

The Yealy Case

Our client, Matthew Yealy, then 38-years old, underwent a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to remove his gallbladder at a local hospital. Oddly, immediately after surgery, Mr. Yealy experienced right-shoulder pain and was examined on two separate occasions by the surgeon. The surgeon’s impression was that Mr. Yealy suffered from a mild bursitis or capsulitis. The surgeon didn’t perform any diagnostic tests to determine the source of Mr. Yealy’s right-shoulder pain nor did he refer Mr. Yealy to a specialist for an evaluation.

As Mr. Yealy’s right-shoulder pain persisted, he noticed a hard lump the size of a baseball near his right scapula and that his right scapula was protruding outward. Thereafter, Mr. Yealy sought treatment from his PCP, who diagnosed him with a brachial plexus injury that was the result of improper surgical positioning of his arm during the laparoscopy. Mr. Yealy was then referred to a physical medicine and rehabilitation expert.

After his exam by the physical medicine and rehabilitation expert, Mr. Yealy was diagnosed with a long thoracic nerve injury which resulted in a long thoracic palsy and winging of the scapula secondary to weakness of the serratus anterior. After nerve conduction studies and an EMG were performed, it was revealed that Mr. Yealy indeed had a significant nerve conduction block in his shoulder.

The injury prevented Mr. Yealy from lifting his arm above his shoulder. Because he was a corporate executive, this injury did not cause any loss of work; however, he could not play ball, lift his children, golf or engage in many activities that had given him and his family much pleasure.

Suit was brought against the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and the hospital on behalf of Mr. Yealy and his wife. The suit was prosecuted on the legal theory of res ipsa locquitor- the Plaintiff could not determine exactly how the injury occurred, but it was known that the type injury which resulted could not have occurred in the absence of negligence. In this case, someone in the operating room must have caused a positioning error as Mr. Yealy lay on the operating room table. At trial, Mr. Yealy’s treating physician testified that the nerve injury in his shoulder was permanent and would place restrictions on him for the rest of his life.

After a five day trial, the jury rendered a verdict finding that the hospital was liable and awarded Mr. Yealy $600,000 and his wife $100,000. After delay damages were added, the total verdict exceeded $800,000.