By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
A jury found today in favor of an Arcadia veterinarian sued by a 79-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes woman, who claimed she had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to save her 8-year-old golden retriever's life because he botched a surgical procedure on her pet.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for less than half a day before finding in favor of Stephen Klause in the lawsuit brought against him and the Arcadia Small Animal Hospital in June 2009 by Margaret Workman.
Although the jury found that Klause was negligent, they found his conduct was not a "substantial factor" in causing the dog's injuries.
Klause was not present for the verdict. His attorney, George Wallace, said his client was busy catching up on surgeries and other duties after the week-long trial. Wallace said he was pleased with the verdict and that he was anxious to deliver the news to Klause.
Workman's lawyer, Steven Haney, said he was "stunned."
"I think it was the wrong decision by the jury," Haney said.
Haney said he believes the verdict may have been different had he been allowed to tell jurors that the California Veterinary Medical Board cited Klause and fined him $500 over the Workman case. Haney said he will discuss with Workman whether to appeal the verdict.
Klause performed surgery to remove a mass around the dog's liver in December 2008.
In his closing argument Friday, Haney said the December 2008 surgery on the dog, named Katie, fell below the standard of care expected of a veterinary surgeon. He also said Klause did not fully inform Workman about the outcome of the surgery to remove a mass around the dog's liver, and that his inadequate medical records made it more difficult for follow-up 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 alleged.
Haney argued Workman was 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.
Wallace told jurors that Klause's decisions regarding Katie were "within the spectrum of permissible choices." He argued that any damages awarded should not exceed the cost of the first surgery performed by the Torrance facility.
Haney and Workman credited 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 the canine's stomach while closing a hole after removing the mass. Katie became very sick when she returned home with Workman after the surgery by Klause, Haney said, and was "vomiting up blood that looked like coffee grinds."
Wallace countered that 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.
Haney said the trial was noteworthy because Judge Debre Katz Weintraub, who presided 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.
Workman said Katie died at age 11. She said the dog's mother lived until age 16.
--City News Service