Clamp left in abdomen during surgery results in $163,000 award

February 11, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore jury awarded $163,000 to a woman yesterday after finding that a University of Maryland Medical Center surgeon was responsible for leaving a 6-inch clamp in her abdomen during a 1992 operation.

Linda Haines, 40, of Bel Air, was awarded $20,000 for medical expenses, $3,000 for lost wages and $140,000 for pain and suffering.

The jury deliberated for 70 minutes before concluding that Dr. Julian P. Smith was negligent for leaving the clamp in Mrs. Haines' abdomen when he closed an incision during an operation to remove a cyst on Aug. 24, 1992.

The woman was wheeled back into the operating room four days later so that doctors could remove the clamp and about 41 inches of small intestine that had been damaged by the instrument.

Neither side was satisfied with the verdict. Mrs. Haines called the award "a disappointment," and Dr. Smith called it a "travesty of justice."

The hospital already had admitted fault.

Mrs. Haines said she was glad that the panel of four men and two women found Dr. Smith negligent but that the award did not reflect the physical and emotional trauma she has endured.

"I feel I deserve more than that, with all that I went through," she said. "I almost died from the first surgery and from the second surgery."

Her attorney, Marvin Ellin, who had asked the jury to award $1 million, said he would appeal the award. "I think the amount of damages is low enough that it will shock the conscience of the court," he said.

He questioned whether jurors could have reached a fair decision in only 70 minutes, after nearly two weeks of evidence and testimony in the trial before Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti.

Dr. Smith had said that he was not responsible for leaving the clamp in Mrs. Haines' abdomen, saying he relied on a nurse to keep count of instruments used in the surgery. "I did exactly as every physician does in the United States," he said.

Carol A. Zuckerman, the attorney representing the surgeon and UM Medical Center, said he was disappointed that the jury found Dr. Smith negligent.

But she said the amount of the award damages was reasonable. "I think they fairly evaluated the evidence presented and compensated her accordingly," she said.

In her closing argument, she called the mistake during Mrs. Haines' operation "one of those freak accidents, one of those far-fetched things."

Dr. Smith performed the operation with two surgical residents, and three nurses assisted him. Ms. Zuckerman said the surgeon followed procedures and acted reasonably.

Mr. Ellin closed by telling jurors that Dr. Smith had breached the standard of care.

"He didn't want this to happen. He's not a bad man. He simply made a mistake," Mr. Ellin said, adding that his client will have to live with the mistake during a life expectancy of 40 more years. "He didn't do it intentionally, but his patient is entitled to lifelong compensation for the loss of her gastrointestinal tract," he said.

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