Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Woman injured by doctor wins suit

Woman injured by doctor wins suit

Will County jury awards $2 million in malpractice case

By Stewart Warren

JOLIET — After unnecessary surgery that caused two injuries, a Joliet woman sued her doctor and won.

A Will County jury awarded $2 million to Mary P. Smith, 38, of Beecher, on April 12 after a seven-day bench trial. Now unemployed, Smith formerly worked in office administration.

In August 2001, she noticed a small lump under one arm and saw Dr. Joy D. Marvin of Surgical Consultants of Joliet. Marvin decided the lump should be surgically removed but did not do a biopsy, said Bill Kozal, one of Smith's lawyers and a partner in Rathbun Cservenyak and Kozol. The doctor didn't explain the procedure to Smith and didn't mention the risks involved, Kozol said.

Marvin removed a mass of tissue from an area under one of Smith's arms in September 2001. It was about three inches long and two inches wide, or about the size of a small banana that had been cut in half, said Ted Jarz, who also represented Smith.

The doctor then stitched the area, causing damage to some of Smith's lymph vessels and nerves. Later tests revealed that the tissue was normal, Kozol said. There was no sign of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

Now Smith suffers from lymphedema, a swelling that happens when the lymph node system is damaged. She also has reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a painful condition that is a result of damage to the nervous system. Because of the permanent injuries, Smith doesn't have much use of her right arm, Kozol said.

Marvin was represented by Martha Swatek of Adams and Swatek, Geneva.

"The case involved complex surgical issues that we believed favored a defense verdict, and we are very disappointed by the jury's decision," Swatek said. Marvin is considering an appeal, she added.

Last August, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law limiting the amount of money people can collect in lawsuits against hospitals and physicians. Among other things, it capped the noneconomic damages for pain and suffering that malpractice victims can win in court.

Now there is a $500,000 limit when the defendant is a doctor and a $1 million limit when the defendant is a hospital. Smith's case wasn't subject to the new caps on jury awards because she received medical treatment before the new law was created.

The award is fairly large for a Will County jury, Jarz said.

"We believed in the case from the very moment it came in, and obviously the jury believed in it, too," Kozol said.

- Reporter Stewart Warren can be reached at (815) 729-6068 or via e-mail at


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