When Routine Surgeries Aren’t Routine

Written By Jeff Gutkowski

Gallbladder removal surgery is often cited as the most commonly performed routine surgery worldwide, particularly since the advent of laparoscopic techniques that minimize recovery and scarring. In a laparoscopic surgery, the procedure is performed through three or four small incisions and special tools inserted into an inflated abdomen, which avoids the need for big incisions and lots of stitches. But sometimes, even the most routine of procedures can go wrong. Recently, the attorneys at Atlee Hall were successful in holding a surgeon responsible for injuring a patient during a gallbladder removal surgery.

What is Gallbladder Surgery?

The gallbladder is an empty pouch that lies below the liver. A duct, called the cystic duct, connects the gallbladder with the bile duct that travels from the liver and drains into the intestine. Bile is an enzyme that aids in digestion. Excess bile is stored in the gallbladder for later use. However, if the bile contains too much cholesterol, gall stones can form that can create pain and discomfort. Removing the gallbladder requires a surgeon to properly identify and cut the cystic duct, which connects the gallbladder to the common bile duct, and identify and cut the cystic artery, which provides blood to the gallbladder. After those structures are cut, the gallbladder can be removed because it is no longer attached to anything else.

Our Client’s Story

In this case, a middle-aged woman had been bothered by stones in her gallbladder for roughly a year. Due to this, her family doctor referred her to a surgeon. The surgeon performed an ultrasound and saw that the patient continued to have gallstones, so the surgeon recommended laparoscopic gallbladder removal.  The patient and her husband were reassured that this would be a routine surgery.

While the husband watched the clock in the waiting room, he became concerned when what should have been a 40 minute surgery turned into 2 hours, then 3 hours. Finally, the surgeon emerged and told him that there had been a complication. The surgeon informed the husband that more surgery was needed to do the repair, but that everything was fine. In recovery, the surgeon told the patient that she had accidentally “nicked” the bile duct and that’s what necessitated a reconstruction of the patient’s bile ducts. When the patient wasn’t feeling better after a few months and continued to drain bile into a bag attached to her side, the patient and her husband asked the lawyers at Atlee Hall for help.

Proving Negligence

The lawyers at Atlee Hall discovered that the patient’s bile duct had not been “nicked,” like the patient thought, but was instead was cut in two, when the surgeon mistakenly thought it was the cystic duct. The surgeon denied doing anything wrong, but Atlee Hall proved that it was negligent for the surgeon to cut the wrong duct. As a result, the patient spent nearly a year recovering from the extensive reconstruction surgery, during which time the client lost her job and needed to borrow money from her mother and sister to make ends meet.  Atlee Hall helped the client and her husband achieve a substantial financial judgment that recognized all of her pain and suffering.

After the conclusion of the case, the Atlee Hall team continued to fight to minimize how much client had to pay back to her health insurance. As result of Atlee Hall’s efforts, the client was able to pay back all that she borrowed from family, all that the law required her to pay back to her health insurer, and have compensation for herself and her husband for their year of misery.