On October 19, 2007, Kelly Butterfield underwent a unilateral oophorectomy –  laparascopic surgery to remove one of her ovaries.

Ms. Butterfield, a 46 year old unemployed woman from Syracuse, was advised by her doctor that the surgery would be routine, take about an hour and she’d be discharged to home on the same day.

Unfortunately, none of that was to transpire; the surgery was complicated by the presence of extensive adhesions, it took over four hours and her bowel was perforated during the surgery requiring a nearly two month hospital admission and several additional surgeries.

Butterfield sued the hospital and her surgeon claiming that they failed to properly perform the oophorectomy, the procedure should have been converted to an open surgery and their post-operative care was negligent.

On February 20, 2012, after a two week trial, an Onondaga County jury agreed that there was medical negligence and awarded plaintiff pain and suffering damages in the sum of $360,000 ($300,000 past – four and a half years, $60,000 future – 30 years).

Additional damages awarded included loss of consortium damages for Ms. Butterfield’s husband in the sum of $100,000 (past only) and $164,306 for future medical expenses (an amount stipulated to by the parties).

After trial, at the Syracuse-Louisville college basketball game on March 3, 2012, plaintiff’s lawyer and the jury foreman met by coincidence. The juror told the lawyer that the jury had intended to award plaintiff $1,800,000 for 30 years of future pain and suffering (not $60,000 – the figure they filled in on the verdict sheet).

The crowd at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on 3/3/12:

Following post-trial motions, the presiding judge ordered the verdict to be corrected to reflect the jury’s actual intent to award $1,800,000 in future pain and suffering damages.

The defendants appealed but the verdict has now been upheld in Butterfield v. Caputo (4th Dept. 2013).

Here are the injury details:

  • intra-operative bowel perforations with leak of gastrointestinal matter and development of sepsis
  • emergency surgery for perforated bowel plus additional surgeries including ileostomy, reversal of ileostomy, reconstruction of abdominal wall and hernia repair
  • seven day coma inducement
  • 50 day initial hospital admission with two weeks in ICU and five weeks unable to get out of bed
  • home care assistance from visiting nurses, daily for almost two years for wound cleaning and IV therapy
  • colostomy bag for four months
  • several additional hospitalizations between 2008 and 2010 for bowel obstructions, each time requiring IV therapy for three days, supplemental fluids and consumption of nothing but ice chips
  • inability to resume sexual relations with her husband
  • extensive medication regime
  • extensive abdominal scarring
  • constant pain with burning sensation in bowels

Inside Information:

  • Ms. Butterfield had a long-standing history of abdominal problems and had undergone laparoscopic surgery for lysis of adhesions in 1994. Additionally, she had other pre-existing medical issues including chronic pain complaints, fibromyalgia and a significant pain medication regime.
  • Defense counsel argued on appeal (unsuccessfully) that by the time of trial plaintiff’s life “had returned to largely where she had been” before the initial surgery and, therefore, $60,000 for 30 years of future pain and suffering was reasonable. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that her life is now “reduced to being ruled by bathrooms and medications.”
  • The jury found that both the hospital and the surgeon were negligent but that only the hospital’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries. The appeals court upheld that finding.
  • Before trial, plaintiff had demanded $1,500,000 to settle; the defense made no offfer.
  • Trial lasted 10 days and the jurors (five men, one woman) deliberated for seven hours.