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Jury rules in favor of doctors in malpractice suit for damages

Published October 27. 2009 05:00PM

By a vote of 10 to 2 a jury Monday night found Dr. Kailash R. Makhija, Lehighton, and Dr. Thomas J. Dirnberger, Tamaqua, did not commit malpractice and awarded no monetory damages to Leonard D. Clouser, of 435 Willing St., Tamaqua, for the death of his wife, Gina, who died of a rare bacterial infection.

After the verdict was returned in Schuylkill County court, Atty. Donald Feinberg, counsel for Clouser, had the jury polled and two tear-eyed jurors said they voted against Dr. Makhija. The vote to exonerate Dr. Dirnberger was unanimous. In a civil trial the verdict does not have to be unanimous like in a criminal case. The trial last six days with Judge Charles M. Miller presiding.

Gina M. Clouser died at the age of 28 of a rare bacterial infection two months after giving birth to a girl by a Caesarian Section operation in June 2000. She died Aug. 25. The two doctors who treated her were unable to discover the infection and were sued for malpractice. Specialists in the field of medicine testified for both sides. Those for the Clousers claimed the doctors failed to find out what was wrong with her by failing to conduct more tests.

"The doctors, both good physicians, forgot to do their job," Feinberg told the jury. He added, "Don't ask, Don't know, Don't test, Don't learn." He also told the jury the tests the doctors ordered did not explain the symptoms the woman was suffering - fever, chills, nausea, poor appetite and high pulse. "They knew an infection was possible following a Caesarian Section operation which could get into the blood stream but failed to uncover it. They should have continued with further evaluation," Feinberg charged.

Atty. Steven D. Costella argued in favor of Dr. Dirnberger stating he followed all the standard procedures and three times told her to go to the hospital for further tests but she didn't want to leave her baby. Costella said, "The doctor told her she could take the baby to the hospital with her but she still didn't follow his instructions."

When she visited Dr. Dirnberger at his office it was the first time he saw her in three years. Costello told the jury the doctor gave her a physical examination but couldn't find the fever she complained of and advised her to get tests in the hospital. "The doctor said to her," Costello said to the jury, "I am giving you the same advice I would give my wife and when she still refused he ordered she receive blood work as an outpatient."

Atty. James A. Doherty spoke on behalf of Dr. Makhija, who only saw Gina one day, at the emergency room at St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale. She was a patient of his colleague, Dr. Richard C. Miller, who delivered the baby. Dr. Miller was also named as a defendant in the law suit but after the testimony was completed, Judge Miller dismissed the doctor from the suit because of lack of evidence to find him guilty of malpractice.

Doherty told the jury Dr. Makhija told the woman to go to the emergency room and he met her and took her history, ordered various tests and made recommendations. At the hospital no fever was uncovered and variouis tests turned out to be normal and she was sent home and advised to see her family physician. Doherty told the jury," She had no risk factors to suspect a bacteria infection and the evidence presented does not support the findings of malpractice."

Under the Wrongful Death Act, Clouser was seeking $5,150 for funeral expenses, values of household and social services, $470,000. and left it up to the jury as to the providing comfort and upbringing to the daughter and value and comfort to the husband.

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