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Court: Suit may continue against Duke hospital

Patients trust their doctors to provide top-notch care to remedy physical ailments. Most North Carolina residents would admit that surgical procedures are scary on their own; add the risk of physician error, and a patient's stress is only compounded. Many patients wonder whether they will be able to pay their medical bills if something goes wrong during a surgery. What happens if your physician makes your condition worse?

A recent legal ruling in a North Carolina medical malpractice case could provide a legal precedent for this type of case by allowing a Durham patient to pursue the financial compensation she deserves. The woman, who won an appeal against Duke University Health Systems, suffered physical and psychological trauma after a botched operation in 2008.

Official reports show the woman was admitted to the hospital in March 2008 for an elective procedure on her gastrointestinal tract. The surgery was performed by the chief of Gastrointestinal and Colorectal surgery, a physician who would be considered an expert in the field. One day after the surgery, it was discovered that the doctors had mistakenly attached the woman's intestines to her vagina instead of her rectum. The woman suffered physical distress, endured additional medical procedures and experienced psychological difficulties following the misstep. She filed a civil suit against the physicians and their employer, alleging negligence.

The hospital won an initial appeal in the civil courts after arguing that only an expert could have determined whether negligence actually occurred in this case. Now, the appeals court has ruled that the case can continue, deciding that an everyday juror would be able to understand whether negligence occurred. In fact, the court ruled, most jurors would know the basic structure of the human body.

The woman will be permitted to proceed with her civil case, in which she may recover compensatory damages for her injuries. Punitive, or punishing, damages are not expected in this case because the physicians did not appear to act in a willfully malicious fashion.

Source:  www.heraldsun.com, "Appeals court rules lawsuit can move forward against Duke Hospital" Beth Velliquette, Aug. 20, 2013

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