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Rancho PV Woman Sues Vet for Botching Pet's Surgery

Margaret Workman blames the premature death of her golden retriever on Dr. Stephen Klausea after allegedly leaving a piece of gauze in the dog's stomach and nicking a portion of her small intestine with his scalpel.

A Rancho Palos Verdes woman is suing a veterinarian for botching a surgery on her golden retriever. Patch file photo.
A Rancho Palos Verdes woman is suing a veterinarian for botching a surgery on her golden retriever. Patch file photo.

By BILL HETHERMAN

City News Service

A 79-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes woman who sued a veterinarian for allegedly botching a surgery on her golden retriever testified today that she was not deterred by the nearly $40,000 cost for corrective measures by another vet.

Becoming emotional at times, Margaret Workman told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that she was determined to get her 9-year-old pet, Katie, the help she needed to stay alive, no matter the cost.

"I would say there was no way I would let her die," Workman said.

Workman said she blamed Katie's medical ordeal squarely on veterinarian Stephen Klause, whom she sued along with the Arcadia Small Animal Hospital in Arcadia in June 2009 for negligence. Testimony in the trial began last Friday.

"I never would have had these bills had the surgery been done right," she said.

Workman said that between her own earnings and contributions from family members, she has paid about half of the $39,000 bill from the Animal Emergency Referral Center in Torrance. She said she credits a veterinary surgeon at that facility, Howard Fischer, with saving her dog's life.

Asked by her attorney, Steven Haney, whether she would make the same decisions again and whether she missed Katie, Workman replied, "Absolutely."

The dog died at age 11 for reasons unrelated to the allegedly botched surgery, according to Haney.

Fischer testified Wednesday that he found "multiple" questionable decisions by Klause, who was retained by Workman in December 2008 to remove a mass around her dog's liver.

Klause left a piece of gauze in the dog's stomach and nicked a portion of her small intestine with his scalpel, according to Fischer, who also said Klause's documentation of his actions was inadequate.

Katie vomited blood, developed extreme pain and suffered internal bleeding after the plaintiff brought the dog home after being operated on by Klause, according to the suit.

When Workman sought reimbursement from Klause for the additional expenses she incurred at the other animal hospital, he offered to refund only the more than $4,800 she paid him, according to Haney.

Haney said Workman's primary source of income is Social Security. He said she took the dog to Klause after her son, William Workman, met him and was impressed by him.

In his court papers, Klause's attorney, George Wallace, denied any negligence by his client and maintained that there is no connection between the care Katie received and her injuries.

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.

Haney said his client is seeking about $50,000.

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