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01 September 2017

Pennsylvania Jury Awards $1.125 Million In Foot Surgery Lawsuit

A state court jury in Media, Pennsylvania has ordered Dr. Cory Hawley, a Delaware County podiatrist, to pay one of his patients over $1 million in damages for removing an extra bone during foot surgery, the Legal Intelligencer reports. The week-long trial, concluded on August 25, 2017, was held in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

Delaware County Runner Wins Over $1 Million

It only took the jury 70 minutes to determine that Dr. Hawley had administered negligent medical care after receiving a patient referral from his associate Dr. Lee Cohen. Cohen’s patient, a 29-year-old runner, had been suffering from pain in her left foot, but nine months of conservative treatment had failed to resolve the issue. Hawley, a specialist in podiatric surgery, took over, eventually determining that the woman had a tailor’s bunion, a protrusion of bone in her little toe.

Long-Distance Runner

In March of 2013, Dr. Hawley performed a procedure to remove the bunion, along with a sesamoid bone, one of two small bones embedded in a tendon under the big toe. But according to court documents, Hawley removed both sesamoid bones and, in the process, created the ideal conditions for further complications.

The patient soon developed a claw toe deformity, as her toe curled permanently into an uncomfortable, bent position. She underwent two corrective surgeries to cure the problem, only to develop a surgical infection after the second procedure. She needed a third surgery to treat the infection.

Podiatrist Violated Standard Of Care, Plaintiff Claims

In a subsequent medical malpractice lawsuit, filed against both Doctors Hawley and Cohen, the woman argued that her treatment had fallen below the standard of care, thus constituting an instance of medical negligence. Removing both sesamoid bones, she said, deviated from the standard of care, as did Hawley’s apparent failure to perform a preventative procedure that could have hindered the development of a claw toe.

Moreover, Dr. Hawley had failed to obtain her informed consent, the plaintiff claimed, saying she had not been adequately informed of the procedure’s risks before surgery. Securing informed consent is an absolute legal requirement in cases of invasive surgery according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Medical Experts Dispute Standards, Causation

Doctors Hawley and Cohen denied the allegations of malpractice, arguing that their medical care had remained in line with profession-accepted standards and disputing the plaintiff’s contention that their care had resulted in her injuries.

A medical report submitted in favor of the defense, written by Meadowbrook podiatrist Dr. Edward Pellechia, said the woman’s post-surgical issues had only surfaced after she began an unprescribed course of physical therapy. Pellechia also claimed that the two defendants had adequately discussed the risks of sesamoid bone-removal with the plaintiff prior to conducting the operation.

The Delaware County jury, however, was not convinced by these arguments. Dr. Martin Pressman, a podiatrist at Yale University’s hospital who provided expert testimony on behalf of the plaintiff, said removing two sesamoid bones in the same procedure was “highly unusual.” More-thorough imaging studies, Dr. Pressman opined, should have been conducted before the second bone was removed.

Damages Include Pain & Suffering, Disfigurement

It was likely the defendant’s own testimony, though, that tipped the scales in favor of the plaintiff. Confronted with inconsistencies between his pre-trial deposition and his statements made in court, the defendant physician unexpectedly revealed that he wasn’t prepared to testify because he believed the case would be settled out-of-court, the plaintiff’s attorney recounts. “He was not his own best witness,” the lawyer told reporters, “and he made a lot of concessions.”

The jury agreed with the plaintiff’s account of events, finding in their verdict that Dr. Hawley was liable for medical negligence and failing to obtain the patient’s informed consent. They have ordered the defendant to pay Kline a total of $1.125 million in compensation:

  • $562,500 for pain and suffering
  • $112,500 for embarrassment and humiliation
  • $325,000 for loss of enjoyment of life
  • $125,000 for disfigurement

As a result of her injuries, the plaintiff is no longer able to run, court records say. She also claims to have suffered permanent scarring and disfigurement.

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