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Lebanon Woman Wins Hospital Malpractice Suit



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, August 10, 2018

Rutland — A federal jury has awarded a Lebanon woman $400,000 in her medical malpractice lawsuit against Springfield Hospital Inc. and one of its surgeons, Dr. John S. Ciocchi.

Karen E. O’Connell maintained she would never have undergone abdominal surgery in October 2014 had she been advised of alternatives, including draining an abscess. O’Connell, then 64 and living in Ludlow, had been suffering from diverticulitis when she was told she needed abdominal surgery.

During the procedure, O’Connell experienced a complication while under anesthesia and eventually had to be transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, her lawsuit said.

The eight-member jury ruled late last week she was entitled to $400,000 for her medical expenses.

“We are very pleased with the verdict,” said George E. Spaneas, a Lebanon lawyer who represented O’Connell during the seven-day trial.

“Normally 80 percent or more of medical cases go to the defense,” Spaneas said. “It was very important to push this case. The patient has an absolute right to participate in the decisions about medical procedures. There was a low-risk alternative to a major abdominal surgery.”

The jurors declined to provide any compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish or loss of enjoyment of life — past and future, according to the jury verdict form.

The jury also found there was no medical negligence, but said Ciocchi failed to disclose an alternative procedure known as “percutaneous drainage.” The jury also found that a reasonable physician under similar circumstances would have disclosed the alternative procedure.

The jury said it determined O’Connell would have declined the surgery if she had known about alternatives.

The draining procedure was unavailable at Springfield Hospital and would have been done at another hospital, Spaneas said.

“That’s why we have informed consent laws,” he said. “In this case, Karen’s voice was completely silenced by Dr. Ciocchi’s and Springfield Hospital’s complete failure to explain percutaneous drainage to Karen.”

The case is now considered closed. The parties filed a joint stipulation in court on Wednesday waiving any rights to file post-trial motions or any appeals. The parties also agreed O’Connell should receive an additional $40,883 in trial-related expenses, and a judge approved it on Thursday.

“It’s over and done with,” Spaneas said about the case. He said his client is moving on.

“We appreciated the time and care the jury took,” said Burlington lawyer Craig Nolan, who represented the hospital and Ciocchi.

Nolan said the judgment centered on the informed consent claim.

“My interpretation is that jurors felt they would want more information than the law provides for. In this day and age of information, they wanted to hear all possible alternatives even if some are not medically reasonable,” Nolan said.

The lawsuit initially was filed on Oct. 31, 2016. Spaneas said Ciocchi, management for the hospital and its insurance company were all unwilling to offer any type of settlement to O’Connell.

Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford, in his jury instructions, said the two sides had agreed that the reasonable value of her medical expenses was $400,000. He said there was no formula to calculate any amount for pain and suffering.

O’Connell arrived at Springfield Hospital on Sept. 17, 2014, with abdominal pain, and a CT image was incorrectly interpreted, the lawsuit asserted. O’Connell later was discharged from the hospital, but returned on Sept. 30.

The lawsuit maintains the surgery should never have been performed because O’Connell had a large abscess in her abdomen, the lawsuit said. She also had a frozen pelvis and based on both conditions no surgery should have been undertaken, the filing said.

The lawsuit maintained Ciocchi should have used a catheter to drain the abscess and not ordered her taken to the operating room. If he or the hospital could not do the draining, O’Connell should have been moved to another facility, the lawsuit said.

Mike Donoghue can be reached at vermontnewsfirst@gmail.com.