Posted on Jul 31, 2007
Surgeon must pay $2.5M for botched procedure
Lawsuit: Former Merced doctor cut muscle while trying to treat a cyst
By KEN CARLSON
Last Updated: July 31, 2007, 02:30:47 AM PDT
A Merced County jury said a surgeon should pay $2.5 million for bungling a procedure to remove a cyst from a patient's buttock.
According to the lawsuit, James Van Buren of Merced has not had control of his bowels since he was injured during the 2001 procedure in a medical office in Merced.
Dr. Sian Evans, a general surgeon, cut Van Buren's sphincter muscle while trying to drain the infected cyst. Evans, then in her first practice, moved to Hawaii four months after the operation.
The suit charged that Evans wasn't careful enough in cutting into the nickel-sized cyst and hit the nearby muscle.
Because of the injury, Van Buren, now 43, will have to wear diapers the rest of his life, said his attorney Herman Meyer of Oakdale. The attorney said the injury has caused Van Buren embarrassment and emotional pain and ruined the quality of his life.
The jury gave its decision Thursday at the close of the five-day trial, about five years after the medical malpractice lawsuit was filed in Merced County Superior Court.
Meyer said malpractice suits are time-consuming and even after the case was ready for trial, it was continually bumped off the calendar by criminal cases, which are given higher priority.
"It is an interesting case because, typically, Merced juries are very conservative and yet they felt strongly about the injuries he received," Meyer said.
Evans' attorney in Walnut Creek could not be reached for comment.
The defendant likely will ask Judge Ronald Hansen to reduce the damages within the limits of California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. That could limit the judgment to $250,000.
If that happens, Meyer said he will take the case to the state appellate court. Many attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice contend that the restriction on non-economic damages in the 1975 law needs to be updated. Meyer said $250,000 in the mid-1970s equates to about $1 million today.
"The medical industry is paying for injuries at a cost of 1977 dollars," he said.
Injured patients can seek damages above the $250,000 ceiling for lost income. Van Buren did not seek economic damages, as he returned to work as a telephone company lineman.
He had a cyst that is fairly common among repairmen who climb utility poles and rest their weight on belts wrapped around their rumps. Because of the injury, Van Buren's employer, Verizon, furnishes a bucket to raise him to the overhead lines.
Modesto Bee reporter Ken Carlson can be reached at [email protected] or 209-578-2321.