Medical malpractice lawsuits are more common than one may think. Unfortunately, even routine procedures can go horribly wrong in the blink of an eye. Most of the time, medical personnel have good intentions when entering an operating room. However, even with the best of intentions, things don’t always go as planned. Such was the case with 67 year old Carole Christiansen’s colonoscopy, a procedure routinely performed in patients Carole’s age.
Crawford County Memorial Hospital recently released settlement documents related to its pay out to widower Eugene Christiansen who’s spouse died in November 2014 as a result of a colonoscopy gone wrong. The suit had alleged surgeon Dennis Crabb accidentally tore Carole Christiansen’s colon during the colonoscopy, which involves scoping the intestines with a flexible tube to check for ulcers, polyps and areas of inflammation or bleeding. The piping knick a portion of the patient’s anatomy. As soon as the mistake was discovered, surgeon Dennis Crabb immediately scheduled Christiansen for a follow up appointment. The patient then underwent a surgery to repair the damage the very next day, but in the interim, the tear had allowed intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen, leading to a life threatening infection that would ultimately take the patient’s life. Christiansen passed away at the University of Nebraska Medical Center eight days after the procedure.
The hospital, publicly owned by Crawford County taxpayers, originally deposited the money it offered into an estate account. This account, unfortunately, was immediately sealed by a judge after the transfer. Therefore, it was unable to reveal that it had paid out $500,000 despite laws in place assuring such information cannot normally be kept confidential. These laws require public hospitals to disclose the details of settlement pay outs, and prohibit details from staying hidden from the public. Initially, Rich Knowles, a public hospital critic requested a copy of the malpractice settlement, but was denied by its Executive Officer Bill Bruce. Open record advocates pushed for the information to be released, and The Carroll Daily Times Herald and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, under Executive Director Randy Evans, took the matter to court.
On Friday, the dispute was finalized under District Judge Steven Andreasen, who ordered that the hospital disclose the settlement publicly. In the disclosure, it was also discovered that Eugene had been paid $100 to keep the matter confidential. Bruce claimed he wasn’t aware of how that became part of the settlement agreement. He also refused to follow up and ask employees about the matter. “I don’t have a need to do that research,” Bruce stated. “I didn’t write it. I can tell you that. Bill Bruce didn’t write it.”
The former Des Moines Register editor submitted a statement saying, “We just regret that the FOI Council and the Daily Times Herald had to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer to achieve what Iowa’s public records says in crystal clear language — that the government entities like the Crawford County hospital cannot enter into secret settlements in lawsuits.”