Jurors found the Geisinger Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre and doctors Stephen Evans and Christian Basque negligent for missing an opportunity to diagnose former patient Joseph Shimko with a severely infected cyst on his tailbone four years ago. The trial, presided over by Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb, lasted a week and the jury returned its verdict Monday, May 22nd, after deliberating for a little over an hour.
The jury awarded $10 million to Shimko even after the health care system blamed the teenager for refusing care. Shimko is permanently disfigured and will struggle to use the bathroom for the rest of his life. The former patient’s reward is one of the largest awarded by a county jury in history and was awarded, according to the final verdict issued, based on damages for past and future suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, disfigurement and loss of the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures.
The former patient was 17 years old when he first went under the care of doctors at Geisinger Kistler Clinic. He is now 21. Since this time, Shimko has undergone more than six surgeries to rid his body of the abscess and reconfigure the affected area. The clinic’s physicians had claimed his issues were related to refusing follow up care. Dave Jolley, Geisinger’s vice president of public affairs, said Geisinger respects the jury system but “adamantly disagrees with the jury’s $10 million award, which we believe is excessive given the facts in this case.” Jolley said Geisinger will appeal the verdict.
Geisinger’s alleged Shimko turned down a rectal examination when he first came to the Kistler Clinic with his mother in 2013 complaining of a possible hemorrhoid, but according to his attorney, Melissa Scartelli, this is “absolutely not true.” Scartelli believes that Geisinger lost the case simply by blaming the patient for his own disfigurement instead of owning up to possible negligence.
Testimony showed Shimko was told by Dr. Basque that he could either examine him or issue a prescription. Shimko told the third-year doctor he would do whatever Basque thought was best, even though he had fully anticipated initially the doctor would prefer to examine the area. “At no time did he refuse,” Scartelli said of the young man’s compliance with the doctor’s orders, noting Shimko would have needed his mother’s permission to refuse an exam since, at the time, he was a minor. His mother adamantly denies the claims.
About eight months later, when Shimko’s mother called the clinic about her son still experiencing pain, Evans — Basque’s supervisor — supposedly referred Shimko to a rectal surgeon, only his staff didn’t order the referral and no one called Shimko’s family to say a referral was made, according to the lawsuit. So, the family had no idea Shimko needed to go see a surgeon. A doctor at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre diagnosed the cyst a few months later, the lawsuit said. By that time, it was too late to properly remedy the problem.
A spokesperson for the health care provider, Dave Jolley stated, “Geisinger did not blame the plaintiff other than to point out that he failed to return for follow-up care as instructed when his condition did not improve.” He said, however, that because Shimko did not receive the needed follow up care, the doctors could not be held responsible for the way the case was handled.