Clovis Community Hospital and an anesthesiologist were not to blame for a woman bleeding to death at her home hours after a simple surgery, a jury ruled Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Jurors voted 12-0 to find Dr. Hoa Pham -- and 11-1 to find the hospital -- not negligent in the April 2011 death of 40-year-old Nicole Caruso, a health-care marketing researcher from Clovis.
Nicole's husband, Tom Caruso, accused Pham and hospital staff of medical malpractice. Attorney Michael Ball, who defended Pham, and attorney Bill White, who defended the hospital, contended their clients' actions were within the standard of care.
Before the trial, the operating surgeon, Dr. Michael Synn, who caused internal bleeding by nicking Caruso's iliac artery, settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
"The surgeon settled and that should have been the end of the case," White said after the verdict. "But they wanted more money."
Joseph Davis, the Beverly Hills lawyer representing Tom Caruso, fired back, saying lawsuits hold people accountable. "That's our system of justice," he said.
Both sides agree Caruso wanted to have her IUD birth control device removed and get a tubal ligation. She underwent three procedures at Clovis Community on April 13, 2011 -- a hysteroscopy to locate her IUD, the removal of the IUD, and the tubal ligation.
During one of the procedures, a needle penetrated Caruso's left internal iliac artery and left a 3-millimeter by 4-millimeter perforation -- the size of a pencil point.
Hospital staff, unaware of the injury, moved Caruso to the post-anesthesia care unit. She stayed at the hospital for three hours before she was discharged at 6 p.m.
Her husband took her home and helped her into bed. Later that night, he gave her a Vicodin prescribed by Synn to alleviate her pain and help her sleep.
His wife remained in pain after the Vicodin, so Tom Caruso tried to reach Synn. He then called Synn's nurse and said his wife was still in pain and if Synn did not call him back, he would return his wife to the hospital.
After he got off the phone, Tom Caruso found his wife asleep and took that as a good sign, Davis said. He woke her up to give her another Vicodin at about 1 a.m. But when he tried to wake her up at 5 a.m. for another pill, she was unresponsive. Nicole Caruso had gone into cardiac arrest and died.
The autopsy showed that a little over 2 quarts of blood had drained out of the punctured artery.
After the verdict was announced, Davis spoke to a few jurors, who told him they found inconsistencies in hospital paperwork but not enough evidence to find negligence.
Davis said he was pleased that jurors -- as well as opposing counsel -- told him Tom Caruso didn't do anything wrong in caring for his wife before she died.
"This was a difficult case," Davis said. "Tom is devastated by the loss of his wife. But he's resilient and will move forward."
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