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Music minister wins med-mal claim for loss of voice

From the February 20, 2006 Missouri Lawyers Weekly.  

Claimed second surgery unnecessary

$309,644 verdict

A man who claimed that his vocal cords were injured during a second thyroidectomy surgery has won a $309,644.97 verdict in his medical malpractice case against an ear, nose and throat practice.

In June 2001,Roger Hickman was referred to Dr. Michael Bays, a physician at Branson Ear, Nose & Throat, for evaluation and treatment of thyroid nodules. Bays treated Hickman, 49, from June through December 2001 for bilateral thyroid nodules he suspected to be cancerous.

Bays recommended that Hickman undergo a total thyroidectomy of the right thyroid lobe, as well as a total thyroidectomy of the left thyroid lobe, should surgical biopsy and evaluation prove cancerous. After determining that the right thyroid tissue was cancerous, Bays advised Hickman that he performed a total thyroidectomy of both lobes on Dec. 7, 2001.

When Hickman saw an endocrinologist for post-operative radio ablation therapy, he learned that the entire right lobe of the thyroid remained and a second, more risky surgery would be required. Hickman , music minister who had recorded and sold gospel music, was told that redo surgeries are more difficult and may injure his singing voice. 

Following the second surgery performed on April 4, 2002, Hickman suffered voice problems that affected his range, tenor and longevity. He could no longer record or perform his duties as a full-time music minister.

Hickman contended that he had developed a malignant tumor about the size of the right thyroid lobe and that Bays had removed the tumor but left the entire right thyroid lobe intact. He claimed that Bay’s failure to remove the right thyroid tissue required the second, more risky surgery to ensure that the cancer was completely removed, and that the second surgery injured his vocal cords.

Bays contended that he performed a total thyroidectomy of both lobes and that the thyroid lobe on the right side regenerated. He further argued that the second surgery was unnecessary because the lobe remaining could have been ablated.

Following the close of the plaintiffs evidence, defendant field a motion for directed verdict. when the motion was denied, defendant immediately rested without presenting any evidence to the jury and field another motion for directed verdict, Which was also denied. These motions were based on plaintiffs failure to elicit or provide any definition of the standard of care during their expert testimony, according to the defense.

After a three-day trial, the jury returned a $309,644.97 verdict in favor of Hickman. Defendant has filed post-trial motions based on the standard of care issue.

Facts of the case

Type of Action: Medical malpractice
Type of Injuries: Permanent hoarseness, injury to singing voice
Court/Case Number/Date: Christian Country Circuit Court/03CV786260-01/Jan. 25, 2006
Caption: Hickman v. Branson Ear, Nose & Throat, Inc.
Judge, Jury or AD: Jury
Name of Judge: James Eiffert
Verdict or Settlement: $309,644.97 verdict
Special Damages: $17,644.97 past medical expenses; $ 17,000 per year future lost wages
Allocation of Fault: N/A
Last Offer: None
Last Demand: $250,000
Attorney for Plaintiff: Steve Garner and Rachael Dockery, Strong-Garner-Bauer, P.C., Springfield
Attorneys for Defendant: Bruce Hunt and Joel Block, Burkart & Hunt PC, Springfield
Insurance Carrier: Berkshire Hathaway,Inc./The Medical Protective Company
Plaintiff’s Experts: Dr. Paul Nelson, Kansas City (endocrinologist);Dr.David Rabin, Highland Park, Ill. (radiologist)
Defendant’s Experts: Dr. John Daniels, St. Louis (endocrinologist); Dr. Paul Robison, Branson (Cardiac Surgeon)