Neubert, Pepe & Monteith Obtains Defense Verdict in Favor of General Surgeon
by Michael D. Neubert and Gretchen G. RandallNovember 3, 2016
On November 1, 2016, following a two-week trial of a medical malpractice case before Judge Cesar Noble, a Hartford jury rendered a defense verdict in favor of Dr. Matthew Dukehart, a general surgeon affiliated with Eastern Connecticut Medical Professionals Foundation. Attorneys Michael D. Neubert and Gretchen G. Randall represented Dr. Dukehart and his employer. The jury heard evidence that plaintiff Corinne Gaudet, a 59-year-old patient, underwent an elective incisional hernia repair surgery with Dr. Dukehart in August 2012 at Manchester Memorial Hospital. The surgery itself was uneventful; however, one day following Dr. Dukehart’s procedure, Ms. Gaudet developed signs and symptoms that were concerning for a small bowel perforation. She was taken back to the operating room emergently by another surgeon, who detected and surgically addressed the perforation. Ms. Gaudet recuperated after a one-week hospital stay, although she did require additional associated treatment, including a skin graft procedure and an abdominal reconstruction surgery one year later.
At trial, plaintiff was not claiming Dr. Dukehart was negligent in having caused a small bowel perforation during the surgery. All of the expert witnesses agreed that a small bowel perforation is a recognized risk of this surgical procedure and can occur in the absence of negligence. Instead, plaintiff’s claim was that Dr. Dukehart deviated from the standard of care in failing to adequately inspect the surgical field prior to closing Ms. Gaudet’s abdomen. Plaintiff claimed, through the testimony of her expert surgeon, that Dr. Dukehart was obligated to have detected and repaired the perforation during his surgery. Defense experts, including a general surgeon and a clinical and anatomical pathologist, testified that Ms. Gaudet had a delayed perforation caused by an electrocautery arcing resulting in a thermal injury to the wall of the small intestine. They explained that the thermal injury developed into a full-thickness perforation 6 to 18 hours after Dr. Dukehart’s surgery was completed. Accordingly, the perforation would not have been detectible to the defendant surgeon despite careful inspection of the surgical field.
Plaintiff’s counsel demanded $1,250,000 just prior to the start of trial. The jury deliberated for less than thirty minutes before reaching its verdict.