SHREVEPORT – The Louisiana Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court ruling that a doctor was not negligent in a lawsuit that claimed a mistake during emergency surgery disabled a man.
The April 11 opinion was written by Justice Jeanette G. Garrett with justices Felicia Toney Williams and Shonda D. Stone concurring. The court affirmed the trial court decision that the defendant had not breached a standard of care when treating the plaintiff.
Martin Van Buren and his mother, Alvoren Van Buren, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Claude B. Minor Jr. following an emergency surgery the Van Burens claim caused Martin Van Buren continuing health problems. Van Buren was diagnosed with hypertension, renal insufficiency, chronic anemia, chronic transplant nephropathy and a gastric ulcer in July 2007, and weeks later was admitted for a gastrointestinal bleed. In the ICU, Minor was called for an emergency surgery consult, and Van Buren went into cardiac arrest while he was there. Minor stabilized Van Buren and performed emergency surgery to remove an ulcer.
During the procedure, Minor reattached Van Buren’s stomach to a wrong portion of the bowel, which resulted in an obstruction. Van Buren suffered malnutrition from intractable diarrhea after the surgery.
Another doctor performed surgery to relieve the bowel obstruction five months after the emergency surgery. Van Buren requested a medical review panel, which found in 2008 that Minor had breached the standard of care for Van Buren. Van Buren filed a lawsuit in 2011 for damages including “excruciating pain," “increased risk of death," and pain and suffering.
Minor asserted he did everything in his power to keep Van Buren alive, and that his surgical error was done “due to his haste to conclude the surgery.” Minor also stated that the surgery did not cause Van Buren to need dialysis following the surgery, but because of the cardiac arrest he had before surgery, “which damaged his kidneys.”
The jury ruled in Minor’s favor in 2015 and dismissed Van Buren’s claims for failing to prove that Minor negligently breached the standard of care. Van Buren appealed the decision.
Van Buren stated in the appeal that the testimony from Dr. Lester Johnson, chief of Surgery for the Louisiana Health Sciences Center, should not have been admitted into court. Johnson said in his testimony that Minor had not breached the standard of care because the mistake he made in attaching the stomach to the wrong portion of the bowel was a common mistake, and Minor’s surgery and care probably saved Van Buren’s life. Garrett noted that the plaintiffs failed to object to the testimony during the trial.
Garrett determined the court could not conclude that the jury’s verdict was “clearly erroneous” because “the jury made reasonable inferences of fact and made a determination as to which expert opinion and testimony was most credible," noting the jury heard conflicting opinions from both sides.
Van Buren argued that Minor’s attorney played upon the jury’s sympathies in closing arguments and that the trial court denied his request for a motion in limine. Garrett noted that the arguments made by Minor’s attorney were “based upon the facts of the case and the testimony and evidence adduced,” and “were not improper appeals to sympathy or prejudice.” He also noted that both sides made “zealous” arguments.
“The court of appeal may not reverse if the findings are reasonable in light of the record," Garrett wrote.