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South Bend Family Receives $744,000 Verdict in Med Mal Case for Unnecessary Surgery

By Jack H. FarnbauchOctober 30, 2017

Dean and Tracy Dixon filed a lawsuit against Dr. Willard G. Yergler in June 2015 in St. Joseph Superior Court. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Dixons' son, who suffered a shoulder injury during a wrestling match on Jan. 28, 2012. On Feb. 3, 2012, the family visited South Bend Orthopaedics to have their son checked out. The teenager did not undergo treatment at first for his low-grade joint injury, but after still complaining of pain at a follow-up exam in April 2012, the option of the Mumford procedure, an operation performed to remove the end of the clavicle to alleviate pain, was brought up. 

According to Nathan Miller, the Dixons' attorney, Yergler gave the family a "false choice," saying the doctor told them it was either have the surgery or live with the pain indefinitely. The crux of the case came down to whether there were more conservative treatment options that could have been utilized first. "It was not an either/or decision," Miller said in his closing arguments. The treating physician testified that Dixon will have pain for the rest of his life as a result of the surgery.

During the trial, the jury heard depositions from a three-person medical review panel that analyzed whether Dr. Yergler complied with the standard of care. Under Indiana law, a medical malpractice case must go through the medical review panel "process" prior to a trial and the members of a medical review panel determine whether there was a breach of the standard of care and whether the alleged negligent care was a "factor" in causing injury to the patient. In this case, The Medical Review Panel was comprised of three orthopedic doctors from around the state. In his final argument, Attorney Miller pointed out that the doctors on the panel agreed, unanimously, that they would have started with more conservative treatment options, like a steroid injection, before considering surgery.

Edward Chapleau, the lawyer for the defense, argued that the Dixons did not sustain any damages as a result of the surgery. Chapleau said the panel didn't have all of the information, like a deposition from Yergler, when it reviewed the case and that they did not have the final say in this case. He said that it was up to the jury. Chapleau also argued that the Dixons wanted their son back in sports as soon as possible and the surgery was a success in that regard. Chapleau pointed out that the Dixons' son had also suffered other minor injuries since the surgery. Chapleau argued the scar tissue the family claimed was causing the teenager pain could have been from those other injuries.

A two-day trial ultimately ended with a jury of six ruling in favor of the Dixons. The jury awarded $744,000 to the Dixons.

You can read more here.