The $1.7 million sponge — how I did it: records, expert, consultant were key
By J. Robert Stansbury, JD
© The Medical-Legal News 2007
Last December a Fayette Circuit Court jury inLexington , Ky. , following a two-day trial, awarded my client, Helen Hammons, $1,500,000 for pain and suffering, along with her medical bills of $48,164.91, and her loss of wages of $1,125.60. Her husband, Ray Hammons, was awarded $200,000.00 for loss of consortium.
Hammons, a 67 year-old school bus monitor had a total abdominal hysterectomy in June, 2004. She had planned her surgery so that she would have the summer to recuperate and return to her job by the beginning of the fall school year in August. She was discharged three days after her surgery. One month after being discharged from the hospital, she began to experience abdominal cramping and rectal bleeding. She returned for follow-up consultations with her surgeon in July and September, but the cause of her symptoms was not determined. She was referred to a gastroenterologist and was scheduled for a CAT scan.
The CAT scan revealed that a laparotomy pad had been left inside her body. A subsequent colonoscopy revealed that the lap sponge had become attached to a section of her small intestines and to a section of her colon, causing numerous perforations.
The lap sponge was removed in mid-October, along with 18 inches of perforated small bowel and five inches of colon. Post-op, Hammons continued to experience frequent explosive bowel movements that were initially eight to ten per day and are currently five to six per day. She requires B-12 shots as the section of small intestines removed effects her nutritional vitamin intake.
The hospital admitted liability and acknowledged that the operating room technicians and circulation nurses were responsible for jointly conducting the sponge count and erred in this respect. There were three separate counts involving at least two persons at each count.
The hospital filed a $250,000 Offer of Judgment that the Hammonses refused to accept. Fayette circuit juries had long been regarded by experienced courtroom observers and the legal community to be conservative in awarding damages in medical negligence cases.
I had retained a legal nurse consultant on several medical negligence cases over the years, and her assistance was invaluable in this case as well. She found for me a medical expert to assist in showing the jury the permanent consequences that explained the frequent and explosive bowel movements that occurred long after the surgery.
This medical expert not only assisted in proving the plaintiff’s injuries, but his testimony was instrumental in countering the testimony of the defense medical expert, a gastroenterologist, that was called to testify. The medical expert that the LNC directed us to was indispensable to our medical proof, and his fee was very reasonable.
This was a jury that took detailed notes throughout the testimony. The attorneys for both sides had the opportunity to talk to numerous jurors after the trial pursuant to a court order granting permission. This enabled both sides to clearly understand the damage evaluation process. It was apparent that the medical evidence was crucial insofar as the jury understood the mechanism of permanent damage and was guided regarding the medical prognosis.
The judgment was fully paid and satisfied on Feb. 22, 2007.
J. Robert Stansbury is an attorney in London, Ky.