Steven Hanes suffered from pain in his right testicle and his urologist conducted an ultrasound revealing it had degenerated to roughly half its size and significant scarring had formed from a prior injury. Hanes underwent the process of surgical extraction known as orchiectomy in 2013. In a postoperative report, Valley Spencer Long, the surgeon, noted that it appeared that the left testicle and cord were removed. Unfortunately, the right testicle was the one that was supposed to have been removed. A medical malpractice suit was filed and Hanes was awarded $870,000, which consisted of $620,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. The verdict was supposedly the first medical malpractice verdict in this western part of the state in over 25 years.
The case sought damages for negligence against Long, who was the urological surgeon, and the J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital. Urologists specialize in the treatment of urinary tract problems, reproductive concerns in men, and may work in clinics, urology centers, and hospitals.
The additional $250,000 in punitive damages was awarded because the physician had demonstrated “reckless indifference”. Pennsylvania law limits punitive damages awards at 200% of the total of compensatory damages in most situations. Punitive damages may be awarded when it is determined that the medical provider was recklessly indifferent, or demonstrated conduct deemed willful or wanton in nature.
Dr. Valley Spencer Long was apparently unable to give a clear reason how the error occurred, yet suggested that the testicles may have switched sides. The jury consisted of eleven females and one male, and they took roughly 90 minutes to deliberate on the matter. Cases where a surgery in conducted on the wrong part of the body are quite rare. The Agency for Health Research & Quality study showed the likelihood as being approximately 1 in 113,000 procedures. Some instances of occurrence have included:
- A Minneapolis man had his healthy kidney removed in a surgery for kidney cancer
- A 4-year old in Oregon had an operation that was conducted on the wrong eye
- A Connecticut woman underwent a surgery removing her seventh rib instead of the eighth rib
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services acknowledged that errors such as having undergone the wrong surgical procedure or a procedure on the wrong part of the body are among the most terrifying for patients. Mr. Hanes has yet to have a surgery to remove the correct testicle, as he has apparently developed a persistent fear of undergoing further procedures. He will likely need to receive testosterone replacement therapy moving forward. A report by the Joint Commission for Transforming Health Care says that although errors like these occur, improvements are being made for prevention. Practices such as the pre-surgical marking of the site for incision, reducing distractions within the operating room, and increased uniformity in electronic medical record documentation are aiding the efforts.