The jury found in favor of Linda Grissom’s husband, Gene, and her daughters, Patty, Lisa and Sheila. Jurors found against Dr. Ronald Gaskin, the surgeon who cut her aorta during gallbladder removal surgery but repaired the wound on the operating table.
The jury ruled for total damages of $750,000 but found Gaskin only 55 percent at fault and the family 45 percent at fault.
The key questions in the weeklong trial were:
Was Gaskin negligent when he cut the artery, knowing his patient was a Jehovah’s Witness and any significant blood loss could jeopardize her survival?
Did Grissom’s decision to reject a blood transfusion unfairly shift the responsibility for her death to the doctor?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible prohibits church members from accepting blood from others.
Grissom, 64, of Imperial, was a production line supervisor, a wife, mother and a grandmother who was planning her retirement in two months when she died on Nov. 21, 2001, a day after surgery.
Gaskin is a general surgeon with a practice in south St. Louis County and surgical privileges at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. He had performed more than 500 laparascopic cholecystectomies, procedures to remove the gallbladder that are less invasive than open wound surgery.
Gaskin’s attorney, Philip Willman, argued, “This case is about freedom of choice, and it is unfair to blame Dr. Gaskin for that choice” of rejecting blood transfusions that Grissom made before surgery in waivers she signed – and after surgery when she was questioned by a hematologist at St. Anthony’s.
Alvin A. Wolff Jr., the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the cutting of the aorta during what was supposed to be bloodless surgery was “malpractice every time. I can’t imagine anything else.”
By “every time,” Wolff was referring to admissions by the surgeon that he had cut or nicked arteries in surgeries in 1996, 1997 and 1998, and took a voluntary suspension of privileges at St. Anthony’s for 2 1/2 months in 1998.
Dr. Edward Mason of Atlanta, an expert on the procedure and the last witness in the trial, disagreed. Mason said cutting the aorta was inadvertent and Gaskin would have been negligent only if he had not recognized it and successfully sutured it on the operating table.
Mason said he had performed 5,000 such gallbladder removals, however, without cutting an artery.
In arguing negligence by Gaskin, Wolff cited a study in 1993 in the American Journal of Surgery in which 4,292 hospitals reported just 13 instances of aorta cutting in 77,604 cases.
Willman noted the testimony of the hematologist, Dr. Victoria Dorr, who told the jury that Grissom would have survived if she had accepted blood transfusions.
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