Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

May 20, 2019

In This Article

Healthy Prostate Was Removed Because of Medical Human Error

An Iowa jury has given a hefty award to a man whose prostate was removed unnecessarily because of an erroneous pathologist's report, according to the Des Moines Register, among other news outlets.[1]

In 2017, prostate tissue samples from Rickie Huitt, a retired John Deere factory worker, were submitted for review to the Iowa Clinic, a physician-owned facility with several Iowa locations. The pathologist who was assigned the samples mixed up slides of Huitt's noncancerous tissue with those of another patient whose tissue samples were indicative of prostate cancer. In her deposition, the pathologist blamed the error on an apparent glitch in the facility's barcode scanner.[2]

After reading the erroneous pathology report, Huitt's urologist, a member of the Iowa Clinic's West Des Moines Campus, informed his patient that his prostate was cancerous and would need to be removed.

In April 2017, the physician performed a prostatectomy on Huitt at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, in Des Moines. A pathologic examination of the gland following surgery, however, found no evidence of cancer. Complicating matters further, Huitt suffered damage to nearby nerves—a risk during such an operation—that left him incontinent and impotent.

Huitt and his wife Judy sued the clinic and the pathologist, seeking $15 million in damages. At trial, the attorney for the defendants, Jack Hilmes, acknowledged that an error had occurred but asked that the jurors return with a more "reasonable" award—$750,000.

"There's never been a dispute that there was an unnecessary surgery," Hilmes said. "Clearly, we disagree that $15 million is reasonable compensation." In requesting a lower award, he noted that the injured patient would still be able to perform many activities of daily life, including mowing his lawn and picking up his granddaughters from school.

But Huitt's legal team, led by renowned medical malpractice attorney Nick Rowley, scoffed at this line of reasoning. "For him [Huitt], he's lost his manhood," said Rowley. (At one point during the trial, Rowley and his team had sought the trial judge's permission to amend their request for damages from $15 million to $46 million but were denied.)

On April 5, 2019, the jury returned with a judgment of $12.25 million—somewhat less than what the plaintiffs had initially asked for but substantially more than what the defendants were willing to pay.

Following the decision, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Clinic issued an email statement: "We are disappointed in the jury's decision but have great respect for the legal process. We will be evaluating our legal options."

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