$2.5 million award in wrongful death suit

Published by The Lowell Sun, November 6, 2007
By Lisa Redmond

LOWELL—In one of the largest jury verdicts in the Merrimack Valley, the estate of a 31-year-old Lowell woman who died in 1999, 19 days after having surgery to remove ovarian cysts, was awarded $2.5 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit against two local doctors who performed the surgery.

After an 11-day trial, including three days of deliberations, a Lowell Superior Court jury yesterday found surgeon Dr. Muhammad Akmal Khan and Dr. Edward Lipman, a gynecologist, as well as Lipman’s practice, Chelmsford Ob-Gyn, P.C., in Chelmsford liable for Bernice Edwards' death in June 1999, according to attorney Suzanne McDonough, of the Boston law firm Lubin & Meyer.

McDonough represented the estate of Bernice Edwards, whose mother, Ruby Edwards, and brother, Jesse Roy Edwards, both of Lowell, brought the medical-malpractice lawsuit after Bernice Edwards died after being admitted to Lowell General Hospital on May 13, 1999, to remove an ovarian cyst, McDonough said.

While in the hospital, Edwards developed pneumonia. Despite Edwards' weakened respiratory system, Khan and Lipman performed surgery to remove the cyst, McDonough said. Edwards died 19 days later of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

When reached for comment, attorney George E. Wakeman Jr., of Boston, representing Lipman, said, "The litigation is still open so I can't comment."

He didn't say whether the verdict would be appealed.

Attorney Kenneth Weiss, representing Khan, could not be reached for comment.

"This was a big verdict," said attorney Andrew Meyer, who also represented the Edwards family. With interest, the verdict could rise to $4.1 million, he said.

McDonough said that the lawsuit, filed in 2002, arose from the June 6, 1999, death of Edwards, the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, who went into Lowell General Hospital a few weeks earlier on May 13 to remove an ovarian cyst. But while in the hospital, Edwards developed pneumonia.

McDonough alleges that at trial, the attorneys representing the doctors argued that the ovarian problems were making the pneumonia worse, so surgery was necessary even though Edwards had not been a candidate for surgery five days earlier.

Even before Edwards was taken into the operating room, she was given medication that caused her to go into respiratory arrest, McDonough argued. Despite that medical problem, the doctors went forward with the surgery.

McDonough argued that while the ovarian problem was improving, people with pneumonia who undergo surgery run the risk of "getting stuck on a vent," she said. Edwards' lungs were so compromised, McDonough said, that after the surgery she remained on a respirator.

Edwards was transferred from Lowell General Hospital to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she died 19 days later, McDonough said.

The jury found that both doctors were negligent and their negligence caused Edwards' death, McDonough said.

The jury awarded Edwards' daughter, Alicea, $2 million, and the estate $500,000.

"It speaks to the degree of the negligence," McDonough said of the verdict.

Both doctors must report the verdict to the Board of Registration in Medicine, which is available to the public.

While Edwards' daughter is now grown, McDonough said the money will never replace a mother who died too young.

"There is a hole that just can't be filled," she said.

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