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Jury awards patient $3.4-million

St. Petersburg Times

Dr. William O. Deweese, who fused the wrong vertebrae in Sean E. O’Reilly’s neck, has maintained he was not negligent.A Hillsborough jury awarded $3.4-million Friday to a Pasco County man whose doctor fused the wrong vertebrae in his neck during an operation at University Community Hospital.

Sean E. O’Reilly, a 42-year-old former lineman for the Tampa Electric Co., underwent the surgery in 1996, just months after a number of other high-profile mistakes at the hospital, including the amputation of the wrong foot of a Tampa resident.

“They were pleased, and they were also relieved that their long struggle has ended,” said Steve Yerrid, the lead attorney for O’Reilly and his wife. The couple and their three children live in Wesley Chapel.

The verdict Friday was not against the hospital. The hospital was a defendant in O’Reilly’s original lawsuit, but it subsequently settled on confidential terms, Yerrid said.

The $3.4-million verdict was against Dr. William O. Deweese, the neurosurgeon who operated on O’Reilly. Deweese had denied being negligent. His attorney declined to comment Friday.

Instead of O’Reilly having his herniated disc removed, witnesses testified, a healthy disc below it was removed. Then the vertebrae surrounding the mistakenly removed disc were fused with bone from O’Reilly’s hip. After the mistake was discovered, O’Reilly had the vertebrae surrounding the herniated disc fused.

The pair of fusings, plus an unusual congenital fusing at another place on his neck, basically meant “the top one-third of his neck was now fused together,” Yerrid said.

“He’s in chronic pain, and he has a metal plate in his neck,” Yerrid said. “He can’t work anymore.” The jury awarded $1.4-million for lost wages, $1.9-million for pain and suffering, and $500,000 for O’Reilly’s wife.

Those amounts were reduced by 10 percent because the jury found Deweese 90 percent liable, and another doctor who was not a defendant at trial 10 percent liable.

It’s one of several verdicts and settlements the past five years resulting from lawsuits alleging doctors at University Community Hospital botched a procedure.

In 1995, the hospital paid $900,000 to Willie King, a Tampa resident whose name became synonymous with medical negligence after a surgeon amputated the wrong foot.

That same year, 75-year-old Mary Louise Kinsley won a $1-million settlement from the hospital for failing to promptly recognize and treat symptoms of a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side.

In January 1997, Norma Jean Cecil got a $1-million settlement from the hospital because her husband, 64-year-old Jack Cecil, died of an allergic reaction to an anti-inflammatory analgesic similar to aspirin.

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