Jury awards $9 million in malpractice case against Butler Health System
In what an attorney called the largest medical malpractice verdict in Butler County history, a jury has awarded nearly $9 million to a man who lost his lower legs following a series of botched staff decisions at Butler Memorial Hospital that led to septic shock.
The jury awarded $8.78 million to Todd Wogan and his wife, Beverly, of Butler after a three-week jury trial in Butler County Court of Common Pleas. The couple, who have two daughters, sued Butler Health System, the hospital’s parent company, and surgeon Victor Nieto in 2013 for negligence.
Jurors did not find Nieto to be liable in their verdict Thursday, but unanimously ruled against Butler Health.
Wogan, 52, was a press foreman for 15 years at Trib Total Media before his initial illness that led to severe complications.
Reached by phone Monday, Wogan’s wife declined comment on the family’s behalf.
The couple’s Pittsburgh attorney, John Caputo, who tried the case with Elizabeth Jenkins, said the family is pleased with the verdict. Beverly Wogan, 48, had been working two jobs to make ends meet since her husband became disabled, Caputo said.
“Some plaintiff’s attorneys remark that Butler County is an impossible venue to win a large verdict because it is a very conservative county,” Caputo said. “In light of that, we feel very good about this verdict. I believe people are the same everywhere if you have a good case and you get people who understand it to focus on the details.”
Hospital spokeswoman Connie Downs declined comment on the verdict.
Wogan entered Butler Memorial Hospital in January 2012 to undergo surgery to repair an abnormal connection between his colon and urinary bladder, known in medical terms as a colovesical fistula. In a follow-up procedure that month, Nieto removed 6 inches of Wogan’s colon and surgically stapled it back together.
Wogan never fully recovered and was in and out of the hospital and doctor’s office until he was re-admitted to Butler Memorial on March 22 for severe abdominal pain.
Caputo said hospital staff waited more than 12 hours to inform Nieto of Wogan’s condition. By then, Nieto performed exploratory surgery and determined Wogan’s colon was perforated and leaking fluids into his abdomen.
Wogan was flown to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh’s North Side at the urging of his wife, where doctors performed seven surgeries to drain his abdominal cavity of fecal matter and clean up accompanying infections.
Doctors at AGH saved Wogan’s life, Caputo said, but prolonged septic shock cut off blood flow to his legs and led to gangrene in both feet. Doctors were forced to amputate both legs at the mid-calf. Sepsis is a severe reaction to a bodily infection.
“The jury found that the medical staff in Butler delayed reporting the condition to Dr. Nieto,” Caputo said. “Had the staff done so, Dr. Nieto might have been able to clean out what was going on before it was too late.”
Wogan subsequently lost his left thumb and had a portion of his left index finger removed due to ongoing circulation issues stemming from the sepsis.
Jurors found Butler Health system to be 100 percent liable for negligence. Judge S. Michael Yeager presided over the trial.
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.