The Superior Court in Pennsylvania has upheld an award for nearly $2.4 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer. The lawsuit was filed by the husband of Sharon Zawatski, Edward, against Dr. George Valenta. Valenta worked at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. The lawsuit alleged that Valenta was negligent in treating Zawatski’s wife and this negligence allowed the cancer to return. The return of the cancer caused her death in 2008. She was 59.
According to the lawsuit, in 2004, Valenta operated on Sharon Zawatski after she had developed ovarian cancer. However Valenta failed to remove both ovaries during the surgery. This permitted the cancer to return in her left ovary. A jury awarded the family $2,361,402, which included interest. The decision was appealed by Valenta and the hospital. They argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that Sharon Zawatski’s left ovary had not been removed as it was not present when the pathologist performed an autopsy.
It was argued by the hospital that the absence of the left ovary during the autopsy was evidence that Valenta had removed the ovary during the surgery in 2004. It was also argued by the hospital that Edward Zawatski did not present any expert testimony to explain how the ovary “vanished” prior to the autopsy. Therefore the jury should not have been allowed to speculate that Valenta failed to remove it.
Despite the lack of an expert witness to determine why the left ovary was missing during the autopsy, the Superior Court did note that Zawatski’s attorney had presented the testimony of several physicians and nurses that indicated that the ovary was not removed during the surgery. Each testified that there was no documentation to indicate the ovary’s removal during the surgery in 2004. Additionally the nurse who assisted Valenta was required to write a list of all the specimens Valenta removed. The nurse testified that this list did not include Zawatski’s left ovary. The pathologist who examined the specimens after the surgery claimed he was not provided with the left ovary. All this evidence presented by Zawatski’s attorney was sufficient enough for the Superior Court to allow the jury’s verdict to stand.
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