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Jury sides with doctor, hospital in hernia case

A jury has sided with a Lee’s Summit hospital and physician sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death by the family of an 80-year-old man who died after complications from hernia surgery.

David King was admitted to Saint Luke’s Hospital East on July 12, 2013 for surgery to repair a large paraesophegeal hernia with a possible volvulus, according to the suit, which was filed in November 2014 by his widow and four adult children.

“The portion of the stomach that had herniated into his chest had become twisted,” explained defense attorney Brandon Henry of Wagstaff & Cartmell in Kansas City.

Attorneys for King’s family did not respond to an interview request.

King went to the emergency room complaining of severe nausea, vomiting and chest pain related to the hernia, which had been asymptomatic “for many years prior to the surgery at issue,” Henry said.

The next day, Dr. George Brent Sorensen performed a laparoscopic reduction and gastropexy on King, during which the herniated portion of the stomach was removed from the chest and sutured to the anterior abdominal wall, Henry said.

“The hernia itself was intentionally not repaired,” he said.

That decision ultimately led to King’s death six weeks later, according to the suit, which blamed Sorensen’s decision to not repair a “defect in the diaphragm” for the recurrence of the hernia and aspiration in his right lung, which caused pneumonia, respiratory failure, anemia and malnutrition. King’s wife and children had sought nearly $2.5 million in damages.

King remained hospitalized with complications for another month before being admitted to a skilled nursing facility. He remained there for fewer than two weeks before returning to the hospital, where he died.

The plaintiffs contended that Sorensen should have performed a full hernia repair with placement of a nasogastric tube to reduce the risk of a recurrence and aspiration, Henry said. They also argued that the doctor should not have advanced King’s diet following surgery, which increased the risk of choking.

After a seven-day trial, the jury deliberated for slightly more than four hours before delivering its verdict.

“The entire deliberation was spent on the liability aspect of the case,” Henry said, summarizing the jurors’ account. “They found all of his care was reasonable.”

Defense verdict
Medical malpractice
Venue: Jackson County Circuit Court
Judge: Circuit Judge John Torrence
Case Number/Date: 1416-CV23308/June 28, 2016
Caption: Wanda L. King, individually and as plaintiff ad litem for David King, Michael King, Tamara L. Nuckolls, Lea Ann Roach and Tracy L. Rainey v. George Brent Sorensen, M.D. and Saint Luke’s Physician Specialists, LLC
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Paul L. Redfearn III and Michael D. Wallis; The Redfearn Law Firm, Independence
Defendant’s Attorneys: Brandon D. Henry and Thomas W. Rottinghaus, Wagstaff & Cartmell, Kansas City
Special Damages: $765,596 in past economic damages; $1,150,751 in future economic damages; $150,000 in past non-economic damages; $400,000 in future non-economic damages
First Pretrial Demand: $2 million
Last Pretrial Demand: $1.95 million
First Pretrial Offer: $50,000
Last Pretrial Offer: $50,000
Insurance: Saint Luke’s Health System Risk Retention (for Sorensen and Saint Luke’s Physician Specialists)
Plaintiff’s Expert: Dr. Kenric M. Murayama, University of Hawaii School of Medicine, Honolulu (medical-surgical specialties)
Defendant’s Experts: Dr. Dana D. Portenier, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina (medical-surgical specialties); Dr. Megan McNally, Saint Luke’s Physician Specialists, LLC, Kansas City

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