By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
A 79-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes woman is entitled to more than $40,000 after being forced to have additional surgeries done on her 8-year-old Golden Retriever to correct the mistakes of an Arcadia vet in removing a mass around the dog's liver, an attorney told a jury today.
In his closing argument to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, lawyer Steven Haney said the December 2008 surgery performed by Stephen Klause on the dog, named Katie, fell below the standard of care expected of a veterinary surgeon. He also said Klause did not fully inform the plaintiff, Margaret Workman, after the surgery and that his inadequate medical records made it more difficult for followup caretakers at the Animal Emergency Referral Center in Torrance.
"Dr. Klause concealed from Ms. Workman and the Torrance facility what he had done wrong with Katie," Haney said.
Haney said Workman is entitled to recover $43,780, representing the $4,140 she paid Klause as well as the more than $39,600 in bills she received from the Animal Emergency Referral Center. Workman sued Klause and the Arcadia Small Animal Hospital in June 2009.
But Klause's lawyer, George Wallace, said his client's decisions regarding Katie were "within the spectrum of permissible choices." He said that any damages awarded should not exceed the cost of the first surgery performed by the Torrance facility.
Haney and Workman credit veterinary surgeon Howard Fischer with saving Katie's life. Fischer testified that he found "multiple" questionable actions by Klause. He said Klause left a piece of gauze in the dog's stomach and nicked a portion of her small intestine with his scalpel.
Fischer also said Klause improperly repositioned Katie's stomach while closing a hole after removing the mass.
"I don't think he intentionally left the gauze in, but that doesn't excuse his negligence," Haney told jurors.
Haney also chided Klause for testifying that he did not believe he was responsible for the gauze.
Katie became very sick when she returned home with Workman after the surgery by Klause, Haney said.
"The dog was vomiting up blood that looked like coffee grinds," Haney said.
But Wallace said Klause is a competent, experienced veterinary surgeon, despite Haney's attempt to portray him as "just a fundamentally bad guy" to the jury.
"It's a simple fact that ... Klause is not some incompetent hack," Wallace said.
Wallace said Klause's decision to reposition Katie's stomach were "born of necessity and the execution of his professional judgment" because he knew he had to close up the hole left by the removal of the mass.
Wallace further said that although he does not believe Klause was responsible for leaving the gauze inside Katie, even if he was did so it would not have caused the particular damage to Katie that Haney and Fischer have implied.
Haney said the trial is noteworthy because Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debre Katz Weintraub, who is presiding over the case, originally said his client could only recover damages for the dog's market value.
Haney appealed and a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Weintraub, saying Workman could also recover damages for her pet's medical bills even if they exceed the dog's value so long as they are reasonable.
California Veterinary Medical Board records show Klause was cited and fined $500 regarding the Workman case.
Workman said Katie died at age 11. She said the dog's mother lived until age 16.