Woman whose bowel was cut nearly in half during hysterectomy to get new trial, appeals court rules

By Melissa Busch | May 15, 2017

PITTSBURGH — An appeals court granted a new trial to a woman who lost her medical malpractice suit against a surgeon who severed her bowel while performing her hysterectomy.

On May 5, the state Superior Court reversed a judgment in favor of gynecological surgeon Dr. Evan Shikora and the University of Pittsburgh Physicians. The appeals court granted Lanette Mitchell’s motion for a new trial without the admission of risks and complications evidence.

On May 16, 2012, Shikora and Dr. Karyn Hansen performed a hysterectomy on Mitchell at Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC. During the laparoscopic procedure, Shikora smelled fecal matter and suspected he had severed Mitchell’s bowel. He abandoned the hysterectomy and consulted a general surgeon. 

The surgeon repaired the bowel, which had been severed nearly in half. After the surgery, Mitchell was required to wear a colostomy bag for a short time, according to court records.

In December 2013, Mitchell sued Shikora and the medical institutions for medical negligence. On Jan. 25, 2016, the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County denied Mitchell’s motion to exclude risk and complications evidence at trial. 

On Feb. 5, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants. Mitchell filed a motion for post-trial relief, seeking a new trial excluding the risk and complications evidence, according to court records. The trial court denied her motion, and she then appealed the case to the Superior Court.

On appeal, Mitchell argued the trial court erred by allowing the defendants to admit evidence of the “known risks and complications” of a surgical procedure in a medical malpractice case that did not involve informed consent-related claims. 

According to her appeal, Mitchell states that she did not allege negligence based on an alleged breach of the standard of care for failure to inform her of the risks of the surgery. Instead, she argued that Dr. Shikora breached his duty of care by failing to identify her bowel prior to cutting it. She claimed she deserved a new trial because evidence that a bowel injury was a known risk of surgery was irrelevant and misled jurors on an issue that directly controlled the outcome of the case, according to court records.

The defendants argued that the admission of the risks and complication evidence was relevant to the standard of care, helped the jury understand the procedure and prevented the jury from inferring causation from the occurrence of the injury.

The court determined that the risks and complications evidence “was immaterial to the issue of whether defendants’ treatment of Mitchell met the standard of care. Accordingly, we hold that the evidence was inadmissible, and that the failure to grant Mitchell’s post-trial motion on this issue was error by the trial court.”

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Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Superior Court of Pennsylvania

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