Jurors find for gynecologist in medical malpractice case

By Amelia Flood | Aug 19, 2010


A Madison County jury has found for the defense in a medical malpractice case brought against Maryville gynecologist Dr. James Dalla Riva and his practice.

Dalla Riva's former patient Penny Keller had claimed the doctor, during a 2006 procedure to remove ovarian cysts, punctured her bowel which led to an infection and the development of irritable bowel syndrome.

Deliberations began at 2:42 p.m. on Thursday. The verdict was returned at 4:05 p.m. and judgment entered for Dalla Riva shortly after.

Costs were assessed to the plaintiff.

Dalla Riva did not offer comment following the verdict beyond that he was happy with it and that jurors had returned the verdict he expected.

Keller and her attorney were not immediately available for comment following the verdict.

While Dalla Riva admited Keller's bowel was injured during the surgery, he denied that he failed to meet the standard of care in her case or that he negligently caused the injury.

The case originally included Dr. Thomas Hulsen and the owners of Anderson Hospital as defendants.

All were dismissed, with Hulsen leaving the case Wednesday.

Keller sought over $50,000 in damages per count of her suit.

In his closing argument, plaintiff's counsel Gregory Shevlin told jurors that while his client wasn't out to label Dalla Riva as a bad doctor, Dalla Riva was refusing to accept responsibility for his mistakes and claimed to be a "perfect doctor."

He cited the lack of a final notation in Dalla Riva's surgical report stating that he looked for bowel injuries as well as questioned the surgical techniques the doctor used.

"The allegation is, on that day, that he messed up," Shevlin said. "Penny didn't do anything wrong."

Shevlin described his client's anxiety about her condition and the testimony of a gastroenterologist that the bowel injury caused it.

Shevlin did not name specific figures in asking the jury for damages.

He told them he could not ask for the wages Keller lost following the bowel injury because he said he forgot to ask her.

Shevlin told jurors that her medical bills topped $60,000.

He dismissed a defense argument that Dalla Riva was not responsible for the bowel injury.

"That's what the defense is all about," Shevlin said. "Stuff happens."

Defense counsel Paul Lynch in his closing told jurors he expected they would make intelligent and appropriate decisions.

And, he said, he believed that those decisions would stem from evidence clearly showing his client did nothing wrong.

Lynch told jurors they had an advantage over his client.

"We know the end of the story," Lynch said. "When you know the end of the story before you know all the details, it's very easy to criticize."

Lynch pointed to Dalla Riva's testimony and that of experts who agreed the doctor's methods were not breaches of the standard of care.

Lynch said Dalla Riva's actions were judgment calls and he made them appropriately.

Lynch pointed to two different records indicating Dalla Riva warned Keller about the potential for a bowel perforation and that she understood the risk.

He cited what he said were four different notes in Dalla Riva's surgical report that indicated Dalla Riva checked for bowel injuries.

"The fact that this complication occurred does not mean that Dr. Dalla Riva was professionally negligent," Lynch said.

Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian presided.

The case is Madison case number 08-L-203.

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