Posted on Mar 18, 2007
Fatal surgery results in $1 million malpractice verdict
By CRAIG McCOOL
PETOSKEY — A fatal mistake in a gastric bypass surgery resulted in a $1 million medical malpractice verdict in Emmet Circuit Court.
Grayling resident Karin Lobaina, whose husband died following surgery at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey about four years ago, won the sizeable verdict last week, though a last-minute settlement will reduce the true amount she receives, her attorney said.
Petoskey physician Bruce Deckinga offered to settle about 15 minutes before jurors returned a verdict Wednesday, said Southfield attorney Robert Sickels.
Sickels declined to divulge the settlement, but said it was for the maximum limit of Deckinga's insurance policy, which he described as "quite modest.”
"His liability under the (jury) verdict would have been significantly higher,” Sickels said.
Jurors would have had Deckinga on the hook for 40 percent of the total $1.17 million verdict, which they calculated by multiplying Lobaina's annual income at Marc One Corp. in Gaylord by the number of years he could have worked until age 62, plus $200,000 for "non-economic” damages.
Court records show Deckinga performed the gastric bypass surgery on March 31, 2003, to reduce the size of Lobaina's gastric pouch. Lobaina died a week later of an internal infection. He was 44.
An autopsy revealed that Deckinga mistakenly connected the wrong body parts, according to the court file. Lobaina's esophagus had been patched directly to the intestinal tract. It was supposed to have been connected to the gastric pouch, which in turn connects to the intestine.
Deckinga could not be reached for comment and a message left with his attorney Friday was not returned. A check through state records Friday showed no disciplinary action against his medical license.
In addition to Deckinga's liability, jurors assigned 40 percent of the liability to Thomas Wertz, a physician at Grayling Mercy Hospital who was in charge of the emergency room when Lobaina's family reported to the hospital following the surgery.
Sickels argued that Wertz, who made the decision to transfer Lobaina to Northern Michigan Hospital, should have recognized that the man was too sick for an hour-long ambulance ride. Wertz's attorney could not be reached for comment.
The remaining 20 percent of the liability jurors reserved for Lobaina himself. Sickels said he weighed about 300 pounds at the time of operation, his second bypass procedure.
"He was not enormously overweight,” Sickels said. "He functioned quite well.”