West Palm Beach, FL—A South Florida doctor was cleared of responsibility Tuesday at trial over the terminal colon cancer a hair salon owner claims he developed because of a slapdash colonoscopy. Kazandjian v. Vastola, et al., 2015-CA-005637.
Jurors in Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit, in West Palm Beach, found Dr. David Vastola not liable for Zevan Kazandjian’s colon cancer. The disease, which has spread, was discovered in Kazandjian during a 2013 colonoscopy performed by Vastola, just 18 months after Vastola had found no suspicious growths during a 2011 colonoscopy.
Kazandjian, who doctors say will likely not survive the disease, claims Vastola missed a pre-cancerous, or early-stage growth during the 2011 procedure.
During Tuesday’s closing arguments, Kazandjian’s attorney, Gary Roberts, of Roberts & Associates, did not request a specific amount in damages. “[It’s] not my province. Not in a case of this gravity,” Roberts said. Not in a case where a man sitting in the courtroom is literally dying before our eyes. Not going to do it.”
The nine-day trial focused largely on whether Vastola could have found the precursor to Kazandjian’s cancer in the 2011 colonoscopy. Kazandjian’s legal team contended Vastola’s 2011 procedure was hasty and careless, despite Kazandjian’s history of colon polyps, which can turn into colon cancer. During Tuesday's closing arguments, Roberts said Vastola's violation of international gastroenterology guidelines, in failing to record certain details of the colonoscopy, helped prove his negligence during the procedure itself. Roberts noted that, while Vastola recorded those details during the 2013 colonoscopy, “On the day we have in question here in October 2011, five years after that guideline was placed internationally for gastroenterologists, he didn’t do it.”
Roberts reminded jurors that the plaintiff’s gastroenterology expert, Dr. William Ravich, concluded Vastola’s 2011 colonoscopy fell below the standard of care, based on the lack of recordkeeping and polyps that were ultimately discovered 2013. “We all have standards in life, every single one of us,” Roberts said. “Every one of us has a standard we have to meet. And, [Vastola] didn’t meet his.”
However, the defense contended the procedure Vastola performed in 2011 met medical standards, and the cancer found in 2013 could not have been discovered 18 months earlier, either because it didn’t exist or was imperceptible. In his closing Tuesday, Keith Puya, of The Law Offices of Keith J. Puya, criticized the plaintiff’s case for lacking any hard evidence that the 2011 procedure itself was negligent. “You draw back on your thoughts and recollections. You draw back on your notes, and [try to] find one relevant question that was asked of Dr. Vastola about the actual technical aspects of this colonoscopy,” Puya told jurors, noting defense expert testimony concluding the 2011 procedure met medical protocol. “There’s no concrete evidence that Dr. Vastola was negligent, other than trying to extrapolate back,” Puya added. “Extrapolate back, knowing how the movie ended, and trying to fill in a couple of scenes two years earlier.”
Puya argued that Kazandjian’s cancer was a statistical outlier, but not unique, in developing in the 18-month span between the 2011 and 2013 procedures. Puya reasoned that, if Kazandjian’s cancer followed the statistically typical progression of colon cancer, which takes up to a decade, it would have meant other doctors also missed the polyp in prior colonoscopies performed on Kazandjian. “Cancer doesn’t follow the rules. Cancer doesn’t always behave [as expected],” Puya said. “Cancer does what it wants to do.”
Jurors needed about 90 minutes to reach their verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
Kazandjian and his family are represented by Gary Roberts & Associates’ Gary W. Roberts and Susan B. Ramsey.
Vastola and his medical practice are represented by Keith J. Puya and Hector Buigas, of The Law Offices of Keith J. Puya.
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