Med mal case against Dalla-Riva goes to jury

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 13, 2007, 8:54am

A woman's medical malpractice case that survived a mistrial and legal derring-do just three days before it was set for trial last year, is finally getting its day in court.

Jurors began deliberating a claim brought by Mary Baugus against James Dalla-Riva, M.D. for allegedly performing a total hysterectomy without medical justification.

Baugus filed suit Dec. 27, 2003, claiming injury to her bladder, peritoneum and vagina. She also claims increased infections, abdominal pain and distress, small bowel obstructions, scarring and vesicovaginal fistula which caused her to undergo additional medical and surgical treatments.

Her case was scheduled for trial Sept. 18, 2006, before then Circuit Judge Don Weber. However, Baugus' attorney, David Damick of St. Louis, dismissed the suit because Weber denied his motion for a substitution of judge.

At the motion hearing, Damick admitted that he did not know Weber and did not have an opinion about him, but informed Weber that other attorneys told him that he should file a change.

He also admitted he was ready to go to trial, telling Weber that the plaintiff's experts were paid, hotel rooms were booked and plane tickets reserved.

Damick had said he based his decision on the political endorsement Weber received while he was running for election in 2006 from a doctor's political action committee --SMASH-- and that Weber's campaign material stated he would "weed out med-mal suits."

"I told the SMASH doctors when they met with me that I would give them a fair trial," Weber responded at the time. "And I give you my word, in my will receive a fair trial."

Weber denied Damick's motion because he thought the purpose was to delay the trial. After Weber's ruling, Damick apparently drove back to his office and drafted a voluntary dismissal.

A hearing on the motion to dismiss was waived because Michael Pitzer of St. Louis, Dalla-Riva's attorney, agreed to the motion to dismiss.

The suit was re-filed in late 2006, and assigned to now-retired Judge Lola Maddox. Her cases transferred to Judge Barbara Crowder who was elected circuit judge in the November 2006 election.

Crowder set the case for trial in May but eventually declared a mistrial after jurors who had deliberated nearly 15 hours could not reach a verdict.

During the May trial Baugus claimed she was required to wear adult diapers due to incontinence, and that she has been required to get catheterizations and make adjustments to her daily life to accommodate her medical disability.

Baugus claimed Dalla-Riva removed both ovaries and tubes because he improperly interpreted a pelvic ultrasound, or accepted notations which were unreliable and inaccurate.

She claimed Dalla-Riva improperly prepared for surgery because he failed to evaluate for bladder and ureteral integrity at the conclusion of surgery on Jan. 4, 2002.

Baugus also claimed Dalla-Riva failed to suture the anterior peritoneal edge behind the bladder to the anterior cuff and failed to take steps to impose another layer of tissue between the bladder surface and the vaginal vault.

Damick asked jurors, who began deliberations at 3:30 p.m., to award Baugus nearly $40,000 in medical expenses and almost $250,000 in pain and suffering.

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