Treatment disputed as cause of illness

March 24, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

The physicians who treated a Westminster woman did not trigger the emergence of the woman's seven personalities, the doctors' lawyer told a Carroll County judge yesterday.

Defense attorney Susan Boyce, trying to persuade Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold to dismiss the $1.5 million medical malpractice claim against Westminster Drs. Donald D. Coker and John E. Steers, said her clients did not cause Linda Burt's emotional and psychological problems.

The lawyer said Ms. Burt, who rested her case yesterday, failed to prove that the way the doctors handled her May 1989 mastectomy was negligent or harmful.

Judge Arnold denied Ms. Boyce's request for a dismissal of the case and ruled that he would leave a decision on the issue of the doctors' liability to the jury of five women and one man who have been hearing testimony since Monday.

Ms. Burt, 47, claimed in her lawsuit that the doctors "breached applicable standards of care" in treating a post-surgery infection. She claimed that she had warned Dr. Steers of her prior emotional and psychological troubles, and her fear of surgery, but he never communicated those concerns to his partner, Dr. Coker.

Her experience, Ms. Burt said, left her devastated. Her attorney said Monday that Ms. Burt is unable to function normally, has trouble keeping a job, suffers from periodic depression and now has a multiple personality disorder.

That disorder, in which any one of her estimated seven personalities can emerge without notice, was brought about by the mastectomy and Dr. Coker's treatment of the resulting infection, she said.

Ms. Burt claims that Dr. Coker's treatment of the infection was outrageous and not within accepted medical standards of care. She also claims that the surgeon's performance of the procedure constituted battery.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Ms. Burt said Dr. Coker treated her post-surgical infection in a way that caused her great pain and emotional trauma. She said the experience brought on flashbacks and nightmares relating to sexual abuse as a child.

Ms. Boyce disputed those claims and told Judge Arnold that Ms. Burt's assertions were groundless. Ms. Boyce is expected to present defense witnesses who will tell the jury that the doctor's care was adequate, proper and within the boundaries of established medical practices.

The lawyer also is expected to produce psychiatrists who will claim that Ms. Burt's mental instability was present long before the mastectomy.

The 1993 lawsuit was heard by the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Board, which awarded Ms. Burt $125,000 in damages. The current trial is the doctors' appeal of that ruling.

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