Jury awards $5.6 million in screwdriver case

June 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm (med, school, randoms)

HILO, Hawaii – A Circuit Court jury on Monday awarded $5.6 million to the family of a man who had the shaft of a screwdriver implanted into his spine by an orthopedic surgeon, the family’s attorney announced.

Dr. Robert Ricketson had contended he acted properly when he operated on Arturo Iturralde in 2001 because two titanium rods he planned to attach to Iturralde’s spine were discovered missing during the operation at Hilo Medical Center.

The stainless steel screwdriver snapped days later, and the then-73-year-old Iturralde had to have three more back surgeries as a result. He died two years later.

The jury determined Ricketson, 48, was negligent, and that the hospital was negligent for credentialing him and allowing him in the operating room, family attorney Mark S. Davis said.

Miles Takaaze, a spokesman for the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. which runs the state’s 12 public hospitals, did not immediately return an after-hours call seeking comment.

Davis said earlier that Ricketson’s medical license had been suspended in Oklahoma and Texas before he came to the Big Island.

Judge Glenn Hara will determine how the payment _ $2.2 million to compensate the family for medical expenses and damages and $3.4 million for punitive damages _ will be split between Ricketson and the hospital.

The jury suggested the hospital be found 35 percent at fault for compensatory damages, Davis said.

Davis had said that upon discovering the rods missing from a surgical kit, Ricketson used a hacksaw to cut off the screwdriver’s shaft and inserted it into Iturralde to brace the spine.

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