Jury sees malpractice in doctor’s actions

Aug - 19

Jury sees malpractice in doctor’s actions

Roanoke obstetrician-gynecologist Randall Falls was negligent in his care of a patient who nearly died after surgery to remove an ovary, a jury decided late last week.

The jury, after deliberating for four hours, returned Friday night with a $1.3 million award, plus $476,000 interest, for Davana Combs of Roanoke.

It was the second trial in a series of malpractice lawsuits filed against Falls, who recently left Physicians to Women in Roanoke, saying he would rather stop practicing than pay a nearly 275 percent increase for malpractice coverage.

Falls won one case after a civil trial in 1998. Two separate lawsuits were recently non-suited, which means they could be refiled. He settled yet another lawsuit in 2002, according to information maintained by the Virginia Board of Medicine. Two other lawsuits are still pending, said his attorney, John Jessee.

Despite his insurance troubles, he has resumed practicing in the Roanoke Valley, Jessee said, adding that he does not know where Falls works. Jessee said that Falls’ insurance policy will cover his losses.

Last week’s trial arose from events that began with Combs’ Sept. 17, 1999, surgery. Within two days, she had turned septic and almost died of peritonitis, her attorneys said. But Falls canceled one early exploratory surgery shortly after Combs showed signs of serious illness, and never made the correct diagnosis, they said.

Falls’ behavior “was bad medicine,” plaintiff’s attorney Jonathan Rogers said Monday. Rogers tried the case with Charlottesville-based Bruce Rasmussen.

Dr. Dianna Curtis, then a resident at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital, did the surgery, with Falls supervising. By the next day, Combs had lost a lot of blood, and Curtis was pushing for an exploratory operation. But Falls, who thought the problem was a simple and typical cut to a blood vessel, canceled the surgery and stuck to his diagnosis, according to testimony.

“A different diagnosis comes into play when you feel like you don’t know what’s wrong,” Falls testified in the four-day trial. “This time, I thought I knew what was wrong.”

Another typical problem with the type of surgery, a laparoscopy, that Curtis conducted to remove the ovary is a cut to an internal organ. In this case, Combs suffered a cut to the bowel.

One of the results, Combs’ attorneys argued, left Combs so swollen that her abdominal skin could not be pulled back together after the second surgery, on Sept. 24, 1999.

“She lived like this for a year and a half, literally looking at her bowels,” Rasmussen told the jury.

Combs, 43, who used to work at her parents’ greenhouses, now cannot work, much less lift anything heavier than one pound, Rogers said. Her complications continue, he said.

Jessee, Falls’ attorney, said Monday that Falls maintains, and testimony showed, that Falls’ work conformed to standards of care in Virginia, and he will probably appeal. The Virginia Board of Medicine has not disciplined Falls in the case.