ELKO – Jurors took one hour to decide Dr. Gary Wright was not medically negligent for burning a hole in a patient’s bowel in 2013.
The jury returned its verdict Jan. 19 to Judge Al Kacin, one hour after the court recessed for lunch and deliberations. The trial started Jan. 10 in Elko District Court.
Jessica Van Hoy sought $275,000 in damages from Wright in a lawsuit alleging that he was neglectful in his medical care and treatment of her when she underwent an exploratory laparoscopy to find the source of abdominal pain.
Wright, a former OB/GYN at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital, performed the procedure on Van Hoy on April 3, 2013. During the lapaorscopy, he removed an adhesion, and in the process, burned the serosa tissue using a Kleppinger bipolar electrocautery tool too close to her bowel, causing a perforation in her bowel.
Wright told Van Hoy and her husband about the burn after the surgery and sent her home, advising her to contact him if she had pain, which he said may occur in three to four days.
Van Hoy said she was in pain, sweating profusely and suffering with nausea 15 minutes after leaving the hospital and called Wright, who advised pain medication. She returned to the hospital that afternoon and underwent a second surgery performed by Dr. Christopher Ward the next day to repair the perforation.
Van Hoy was hospitalized for nine days.
Charles Spann, representing Van Hoy, told the jury that their side had the burden to prove by a preponderance of evidence that Wright did not obtain a second opinion before concluding the surgery; did not convert the laparoscopy to a full-open procedure to check for damage on the bowel; and sent her home rather than keep her in the hospital for observation.
During the trial, Ward was called to testify. During closing arguments Friday, Spann reminded the jury of Ward’s testimony, in which Ward explained there was no way to tell if fluid was going to start leaking in the perforated bowel in a laparoscopy unless the patient was opened up to run the bowel.
Ward was a reluctant witness who had no special interest in the case, Spann said.
Wright’s attorney, Anthony Lauria, said the fact that the hole was recognized, treated appropriately and resolved fairly quickly with no long-term problems was “undisputed evidence.”
All the medical experts who testified agreed that the “thermal spread” that occurred by using the Kleppinger tool was something that could happen when the surgery is done properly, Lauria said, referring to testimony provided by Dr. Haydee Docasar and Dr. Mark Dodson.
“All experts agree that it does not mean Wright was negligent,” Lauria said. “It is a recognized risk and potential complication of electrocautery.”
Lauria also reminded the jury to remember the plaintiff had the burden to prove that Wright’s conduct departed from standard medical care and was the proximate cause of injury, which is the basis to award damages.
He also told the jury that “you cannot create your own standard of care” or assert that Wright should have decided to open her up if that wasn’t required.
“[You] can’t say Dr. Wright should have done the [full-open] surgery because no one said he should have,” Lauria said.
The 10-member jury consisted of eight jurors and two alternates. For civil matters, three-fourths of the eight-member jury, or six jurors, can determine the verdict.
The jury was asked to determine if there was negligence, if the negligence was a proximate cause of any personal injury to the plaintiff, and if damages should be awarded.
“Only if you’re convinced there is evidence for negligence and proximate cause, then you can award damages,” Lauria said.
Van Hoy asked for $250,000 for past pain, physical and mental pain and anguish, disfigurement and disability between April and June 2013, and $25,000 for future physical pain and disfigurement, referring to a nine-inch scar on her abdomen.
Wright moved to Elko in 2005, opened his own practice at the Pinion Road Medical Clinic and was the department chair of the OB/GYN unit from 2010 to 2013. He moved to Texas in 2016.