The courts

Gavel and sound block

An Ellwood City man who became partially paralyzed from a spinal infection has been awarded more than $4.8 million by a Lawrence County jury in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

A jury returned a verdict Friday afternoon, favoring Edward D. Dallies and his wife, Cheryl, who filed a medical malpractice suit two years ago against three doctors, claiming they were negligent in diagnosing and treating him for his condition.

The verdict culminated a two-week trial in the courtroom of Lawrence County Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto.

The award includes a breakdown of Dallies' anticipated medical expenses — $183,673 for the next 18 years, plus $1.23 million for past and future non-economic loss including pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, loss of ability to enjoy the pleasure of life, and disfigurement. The award also includes $350,000 for past and future lost earnings.

Dallies, 56, who suffered from a spinal infection in 2014 that grew progressively worse, ended up losing the function of his body from his chest down as a result of an infection that started on his wrist, according to court papers.

Named in the lawsuit were his primary care physician, Lawrence F. Rahall, M.D., of Ellwood City, and Ellwood City Hospital, and two orthopedic specialists, John Lehman, M.D. and Andrew S. Kaye, M.D., both of Beaver County, as well as their affiliated ASP Orthopedics and Sports Medicine of Beaver County.

The jury arrived at its verdict around 5 p.m. Friday after about 3 1/2 hours of deliberations, finding that negligence on the part of Lehman and Rahall — but not Kaye — caused of harm to Dallies. The jurors further resolved that 30 percent of the cause of harm to Dallies was attributable to Lehman and 70 percent was attributable to Rahall. The jury found that zero percent was attributable to Kaye.

A poll of the jury in the courtroom showed that 10 jurors were in favor of the verdict and that two male jurors were not.

The verdict also determined that Lehman and Kaye were not necessarily agents of Ellwood City Hospital.

According to the initial complaint filed in 2016 with the lawsuit, Dallies was under the care of the three physicians in the fall of 2014 for an infection of the left forearm and wrist that led to an infection in and around the spinal cord. The suit claims his condition was not diagnosed, nor was it treated, in a timely fashion and that he suffered permanent neurologic damage as a result of the infection.

The lawsuit claimed the doctors failed to diagnose a spinal infection based on the patient's signs and symptoms, lab work and imaging studies, and that they failed to perform appropriate tests and imaging studies to discover the infection in a timely manner. It states that Ellwood City Hospital's MRI imaging machine could not accommodate Dallies, and that the doctors had failed to make alternative arrangements for the MRI to be performed elsewhere.

The suit claimed the doctors also failed to stabilize and immobilize a compression fracture in his back, and they failed to recommend or order appropriate antibiotic therapy for the infection. It concluded that, had Dallies been treated appropriately in a timely manner, he would avoided permanent neurological harm.

Dallies was represented in the case by Pittsburgh attorney John Gismondi of Tthe Law Offices of Gismondi & Associates.

Gismondi said Tuesday that Dallies had worked as a heavy equipment operator for an excavating company until his illness.

"I thought the judge did a very good job of providing a fair trial to everyone involved," Gismondi said Tuesday, declining further comment about the trial or his client.

Attempts to contact the three Pittsburgh attorneys who represented the doctors — Paula Koczan, Terry Cavanaugh and Daniel Magonari — were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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