A Las Vegas jury awarded $1M in damages in the medical malpractice trial Striepling v. Valley Health System, webcast by CVN. Shirley Striepling died in January, 2007, at age 71, approximately a week after undergoing abdominal surgery.
Benson Bertoldo's Brett Carter told the jury that Dr. Stuart Hoffman planned to treat a stomach ulcer with a partial gastrectomy, and also to take a liver biopsy to check for liver cancer.
However, Mr. Carter recounted, the January 3, 2007, surgery did not go as planned. During the surgery Dr. Hoffman removed Ms. Striepling's gall bladder and lymph nodes, and mistakenly severed her common bile duct. While reconnecting the bile duct to the intestine, Dr. Hoffman allegedly injured the pancreas. The surgery lasted five hours instead of two hours. No liver biopsy was done, and the pathology report on the gall bladder showed minor inflammation, but no gall stones or cancer.
Ms. Striepling's condition deteriorated after the surgery, and she died on January 11, 2007, as result of "preventable sepsis." According to the Mr. Carter, the injury to the pancreas caused pancreatic enzymes to corrode the sutures that had been used to repair the bile duct, which in turn leaked infectious fluids into Ms. Striepling's abdomin, which eventually resulted in sepsis.
Mr. Carter explained to the jury three different ways in which Ms. Striepling's death resulted from Dr. Hoffman's negligence. First, Ms. Striepling's death resulted from an unplanned, unnecessary cancer surgery that exposed her to additional risk, which risk was realized as a severed common bile duct. Moreover, said the plaintiff, Dr. Hoffman's cutting what he could not see -- the common bile duct --was also below the standard of care. Finally, Dr. Hoffman allegedly ignored evidence and other doctors' suggestions that there was a post-operative abdominal source of infection (the leaking bile duct), when there was still time to repair the harm.
Alverson Taylor's LeAnn Sanders told the jury that the plaintiffs were looking for someone to blame, and obtained a "flawed autopsy." However, said Ms. Sanders, Dr. Hoffman not only satisfied but exceeded the standard of care based on the information available at the time, and in fact even years later and with an autopsy and complete records there was no consensus as to the precise series of events that resulted in Ms. Striepling's death. Moreover, common bile duct injury is a recognized risk of abdominal surgery, and Dr. Hoffman quickly identified and repaired the damage.
Ms. Sanders said that Ms. Striepling was recovering from the surgery acceptably, but did in fact have a heart attack three days post-surgery, which caused respiratory failure and renal failure. Dr. Hoffman's canceling the scheduled CT scan three days post-surgery was appropriate because any abdominal air or fluid noted would most likely have been related to the surgery, and there was no sign of pancreatitis at this time.
The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, and awarded general damages of $250K each to Ms. Striepling's sons for their pain and suffering, and an additional $500K for Ms. Striepling's pain and suffering.