West Palm Beach, FL— Jurors Wednesday awarded more than $2.4 million for the injuries they found a Florida man suffered because of a robot-assisted prostate surgery. Rosenberg v. Muhletaler, et al., 2019-CA-014940.
The 15th Circuit Court jury, in Palm Beach County, handed down the award after concluding Dr. Frederick Muhletaler was responsible for the rectal tear and subsequent complications Steven Rosenberg suffered during the 2018 operation.
Wednesday’s verdict includes $2.06 million to Rosenberg and $380,000 to his wife, Margaret.
The $2.44 million total award is slightly more than the $2.4 million the Rosenbergs’ attorney, Searcy Denney's Karen Terry, requested during Tuesday’s closings.
After the verdict, Terry told CVN that the defense had offered nothing to settle the case pre-trial.
“They offered a high-low (agreement) after the jury asked for a calculator,” Terry added. "And it was too little, too late.”
Rosenberg suffered a rectal tear during the robot-assisted, simple prostetectomy performed by Muhletaler. Rosenberg claims Muhletaler did not properly repair the tear, leading him to develop a rectourethral fistula, or an opening between the urethra and rectum. Rosenberg ultimately underwent surgery to repair the fistula, leading to a temporary ileostomy and a host of genitourinary complications.
The 8-day trial turned in part on whether Muhletaler acted appropriately during the surgery.
During Tuesday’s closings, Muhletaler’s attorney, Adams | Coogler’s Reed Kellner, reviewed evidence he said showed the rectal tear was a complication that can occur even when the robotic surgery is properly performed. And he said the doctor acted reasonably in repairing the tear.
“Complications like this can only be avoided if you stop doing necessary and helpful surgery,” Kellner said. “We need to recognize that, without fault, some patients will have complications. Mr. Rosenberg was one of the few, but not because Dr. Muhletaler failed to use reasonable care.”
However, Terry walked jurors through evidence she said showed Muhletaler was rushed on the day of the surgery and lacked the experience to repair the rectal tear he caused. Despite this, Terry told jurors, Muhletaler pressed forward to repair the tear himself, rather than calling for someone with the proper expertise.
“I know you’re late,” Terry said in closings, “but when you’re dealing with someone’s life — someone’s life — you take your time and you call in the person that can help.”
Terry told CVN that, although jurors did not speak to her after the verdict, she believes testimony surrounding how rarely rectal tears occurred in this type of procedure likely played a key role in their decision.
“None of the experts that testified in this case have ever seen or heard of a rectal injury occurring in a robotic simple prostetectomy." Terry said.
She noted that the defense's expert urologist, Dr. David Albala, testified he had never faced such a complication when performing the procedure.
“If it’s never happened to him, and nobody else has heard of it happening in this procedure, I think that went a long way with the jury,” Terry said. “That alone may have been the deciding factor.”
She added that she believed the jury, which often raised particularly strong follow-up questions throughout the trial, may have been the most focused and engaged panel in her career.
"I couldn't have asked for a better jury," Terry said. "They were so immersed and engaged.... It was just really nice to see."
CVN has reached out to the defense attorneys for comment.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steven and Margaret Rosenberg are represented by Searcy Denney’s Karen Terry and Matthew Schwencke.
Dr. Frederick Muhletaler is represented by Adams | Coogler’s Nicholas Madsen and Reed Kellner.
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