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Man Who Lost Some Sight Wins Suit Vs. 5 Doctors

Nov 26, 2003 | Post-Dispatch

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury awarded $2.25 million to a man who underwent back surgery and ended up losing nearly all the vision in one eye.

The damage award for Evan Montgomery, 39, came after a chain of events that Montgomery said started with a misdiagnosis and a set of complications that set him on a perilous course involving life-threatening surgery. An attorney for two of the defendants argued that Montgomery's doctors did all they could under difficult circumstances.

On Tuesday evening, after a seven-day trial, the jury found in favor of Montgomery in his medical malpractice case against two radiologists, two anesthesiologists and a neurosurgeon.

On Wednesday, Montgomery said, "I know it was difficult surgery, but I didn't expect coming out of it blind in my left eye."

Said Montgomery's lawyer, "I just think this case is about doctors who don't take responsibility for their mistakes."

Ray Fournie, a lawyer for the anesthesiologists, said the jury award is unsupported by the evidence and will be appealed.

Montgomery, who makes electronic maps in his job with the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, said he went to Dr. David Kennedy in late 1994 because of back pain.

Montgomery and his attorney gave this account:

Under questioning by Kennedy, Montgomery speculated the pain might have come from helping his father pick up a 10-point buck they shot on his grandmother's farm near Ellington, Mo.

Surgery by Kennedy in June 1995 to correct a slightly bulged disc and follow-up treatments provided no pain relief.

"I was going through hell for a long time," Montgomery said. "My wife was very frustrated."

Judith Montgomery eventually took her husband's MRI film to a radiologist friend who immediately spotted what appeared to be a tumor.

"At least, we were relieved to find the cause of the pain but terrified of what it could be," Evan Montgomery said.

On Dec. 8, 1995, a doctor at St. Louis University did a biopsy of the tumor and removed it. Montgomery's pain went away. But the biopsy revealed the tumor was malignant.

Defense lawyers said Montgomery had one of only eight documented cases of epithelioid osteosarcoma of the sacrum, or tailbone. Montgomery is said to be the only survivor.

On May 6, 1996, Montgomery had surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and half his tailbone. That was when he lost nearly all sight in his left eye.

Montgomery's suit said excessive pressure on his left eye shut off blood to an optic nerve during surgery and produced the blindness. Bruning contended that Montgomery was placed wrongly on the operating table and that anesthesiologists failed to monitor him properly.

In his closing argument Tuesday, Fournie told jurors that Montgomery is "very lucky" to be alive. The risky surgery was so grueling that doctors had to replace all of Montgomery's blood during the 10-hour operation.

Fournie denied that a face pad for Montgomery was placed improperly during surgery and said the defendant anesthesiologists - Drs. William Turnage and Ata Siddiqui - did nothing wrong.

Jurors ordered Turnage and Siddiqui each to pay Montgomery $400,000 in damages. Kennedy and two radiologists at South County Radiologists Inc. Drs. Edward Habert and Jeffrey Judd were ordered to pay a total of $1.45 million. Judd and Habert failed to recognize "a sacral mass" on Montgomery's MRIs in 1995, jurors found.

Montgomery's attorney said he is a victim of unnecessary disc surgery and now partially blind because of "doctor mistakes."

"The doctors who mistreated him did not save his life. "They caused his blindness, and the jury believed that it took his wife to find out what the problem was."

Fournie said the case could be bad for the city, where jurors may tend to award plaintiffs large judgments.

"People who will learn of (Montgomery's case) will have grave second thoughts staying in medical practice or wanting to locate in the city," he said. "What will eventually happen is that more and more independent medical professionals will leave the area."

Montgomery, who lives in south St. Louis County, said he is happy with the jury's decision but noted that his partial blindness is permanent.

"I can live with it, but it's tough," he said.

"I'm doing OK," Montgomery said. "It's been a long time for this to come to an end. I'm just glad it's behind us. It was all about principle with me. Dollars can't bring my eyesight back."


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