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Gov’t To Pay $850K To End Suit Over Patient’s Fatal Surgery

Law360 (August 18, 2020, 9:03 PM EDT) — The federal government has agreed to pay $850,000 as part of an $865,000 settlement approved Tuesday resolving a suit accusing a doctor employed by a federally funded health clinic of negligently piercing a patient’s bowel during surgery and causing a fatal infection.

U.S. District Judge Donald C. Coggins Jr. signed off on the deal to end a suit accusing Dr. John Burney, an employee of Health Care Partners of South Carolina Inc., of perforating Gail Eglit’s bowel in two places during a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. The damage caused a severe infection and led to the patient’s death two days after the procedure, according to the suit filed by the patient’s son, Robert Eglit Jr.

The suit also alleged that Burney and the hospital where the procedure was performed, Conway Medical Center, should have known that the patient was not a good candidate for the surgery given numerous previous abdominal procedures.

The federal government agreed to pay Eglit $850,000 while Conway agreed to pay $15,000, according to Tuesday’s order. The judge said the deal was fair, just and equitable and approved attorney fees of $219,250, or about 25% of the settlement amount.

The suit was originally filed in South Carolina state court in August 2019 and removed to federal court in January. Eglit alleges that during an exploratory surgery to locate the patient’s cyst, Burney encountered adhesions, or scar tissue adhering to organs, and consulted with another physician who recommended that the procedure be terminated.

Shortly afterward, Gail Eglit complained of intense pain and was reassured that it was likely due to air trapped in the abdomen, according to the complaint. The next day, however, the patient showed signs of sepsis, or blood poisoning, and underwent an emergency procedure to repair a suspected perforated bowel. The other physician discovered that that patient’s bowel was “speared” in two places by a surgical instrument called a trocar, according to the complaint.

The patient’s severe sepsis caused massive organ failure and she died the next day at age 65, according to the suit.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Eglit is represented by Thomas W. Winslow and Allie D. Argoe of Goldfinch Winslow LLC.

The federal government is represented by Lee Ellis Berlinsky of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.

Conway Medical Center is represented by Marian W. Scalise and Lydia L. Magee of Richardson Plowden & Robinson PA.

The case is Robert A. Eglit Jr. v. U.S. et al., case number 4:20-cv-00124, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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