Wednesday, May 28, 1986.


by Vincent Lupo
American Press Staff Writer

The family of a young boy, whose penis had to be amputated after it was severely burned during a routine circumcision performed at a state-run hospital, was awarded $2.75 million by a jury in 14th Judicial District Court.

[CIRP Comment: A routine circumcision, by definition, is an unnecessary, non-therapeutic circumcision that is performed in the absence of medical indication. The lack of necessity for the surgery makes this case all the more tragic.]

Jurors made the award against the State of Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and the LSU Board of Supervisors. The family of the boy asked that they not be named.

According to testimony during the week-long civil trial before Judge L. E. Hawsey Jr., the boy who was 2 years old at the time, was to undergo a routine circumcision at W. O. Moss Regional Hospital on February 2, 1984.

A third-year surgical resident undergoing training through the LSU medical program supervised the operation in which an electrosurgical instrument manufactured by Valley Lab of Boulder, Colo., was used. The device, commonly used to stop bleeding during surgery, can cut tissue through heat transmitted by an electric current.

During the surgery which was actually performed by another resident under the supervision of the surgical resident, the boy's penis was severely burned. Internal damage to blood vessels apparently also occurred and kept vital oxygen from reaching the tissue of the organ, which had to be removed later after the child was transferred to a New Orleans hospital.

Doctors in New Orleans strongly suggested that the parents allow them to perform a sex change operation on the toddler, but they refused. The boy's urinary tract was rerouted during several subsequent surgeries both here and in New Orleans, and he now urinates through a hole located where his penis had been.

His parents sued the state and Valley Lab. Neither doctor was named as a defendant. The family claimed the manufacturer of the surgical device failed to adequately warn doctors of the harm which could be caused by the instrument.

The trial was bifurcated which means a portion was decided by Judge Hawsey and portion was decided by the jurors. Because juries are composed of citizens of the state, jurors are not allowed to decide any suit or part of a suit naming a state agency as defendant.

Therefore Judge Hawsey determined the liability of the state, while the jurors decided the liability of Valley Lab.

While jurors deleberated on their verdict, Judge Hawsey rendered his decision against the state. He found both DHHR and the LSU Board of Supervisors liable in the case.

The judge awarded a total of $18,969 in special damages to the boys parents for medical expenses and $100,000 in general damages, ande $1.73 million to the victim.

In his oral ruling, Judge Hawsey said he felt Valley Labs was not negligent in providing warnings about the surgical instrument.

Jurors, however disagreed and determined Valley Lab was 30 percent responsible for the injuries to the child.

The juries awarded the boy a total of $2.75 million.

Local attorney David A. Fraser, who represented the family, said the higher figure awarded by the jury is considered the amount of the judgement.

Since the state has a $500,000 limit stipulated by state law regarding its insurance coverage, Valley Lab apparently must assume the payment of the remainder. However, Valley Lab can attempt to recover 70 percent of that remainder since jurors found that defendant only 30 percent liable, Fraser said.

The attorney said he feels certain the defendants will appeal the decisions to higher courts.

(File revised 3 May 2008)

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