Michelle DiLieto of North Branford won a $5.2 million verdict Thursday after a seven-week trial against the Yale School of Medicine and her gynecologist for what she said was an unnecessary total hysterectomy that left her with nerve damage. University spokesman Thomas Conroy said Yale plans to appeal the verdict, though the University has not yet revealed the grounds on which it plans to appeal.
The jury awarded DiLieto $2.5 million from Yale and another $2.7 million from Connecticut-based County Obstetrics and Gynecology Group, where her gynecologist, Dr. Scott Casper, practices.
One of DiLieto’s attorneys, Steven Ecker ’84, said that although the judgment was good for his client, it was avoidable.
“This is a case that could have and should have been settled a while ago for a fraction of the final verdict,” he said.
Ecker said the plaintiff made an initial offer of about $1.5 million, but was willing to negotiate with the defendants. He said the final amount awarded would be about twice the $5.2 million verdict due to interest accrued from the date of the initial lawsuit in 1997. By statute, the interest rate charged will be 12 percent per year.
Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said he was surprised at the award’s magnitude.
“The size of the verdict was unusually large,” he said. “Awards of that size are the reason why medical malpractice insurance rates are so high.”
Conroy said he was unfamiliar with the terms of any settlement offer. An administrator in Dr. Casper’s practice said he had no comment on any aspect of the case.
DiLieto was diagnosed with endometrial stromal sarcoma, a rare but often fatal cancer, in her uterus in 1995, and her gynecologist suggested that she see Dr. Peter Schwartz, a professor at the School of Medicine practicing at Yale-New Haven Hospital. During the surgery, Casper removed her uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Schwartz was supposed to remove nearby lymph nodes, Ecker said, but Dr. Babak Edraki, a first-year fellow in gynecologic oncology at the time, performed the procedure instead.
Conroy said a Yale pathology report confirmed the diagnosis, but in 1997 a Harvard pathologist determined that DiLieto never had cancer. The jury in the latest trial found no negligence on the part of the Yale pathologists, but experts consulted by the plaintiff said the tissue samples Yale pathologists examined actually showed no cancer.
“According to my experts, Yale knew all along that she didn’t have cancer,” Ecker said.
The tissue samples in question were turned over to DiLieto’s attorneys only after a court order in November 2004. But the judge’s order did not allow her lawyers to bring up the issue at the most recent trial.
The May 3, 1995, surgery left DiLieto with significant nerve damage that left her in enough pain that she was unable to walk for months afterward, she said. But DiLieto said she was never told about the origin of her pain. Instead, her doctors told her the symptoms were caused by an inability to take estrogen as hormone replacement therapy for menopause because she was a “cancer survivor,” she said.
DiLieto said she never received an apology for what happened to her.
“They were all very arrogant with regard to me,” she said.
DiLieto’s attorney, Rodney Margol, said the jury specifically awarded her $700,000 for mental anguish due to her physicians’ failure to inform DiLieto that she did not actually have cancer.
Margol said he was “guardedly optimistic” about the plaintiff’s chances on appeal.
The case reached a jury for the first time in 2000, when the trial ended with a verdict in Yale’s favor. A 2003 Connecticut Supreme Court decision overturning that verdict led to the retrial.