Second trial begins in Weis' malpractice suit against two surgeons
BOSTON -- Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis was back in court Monday, pressing his medical malpractice case for a second time against two surgeons he alleges botched his care after he had gastric bypass surgery five years ago.
The first trial ended in a mistrial in February after a juror collapsed and the Massachusetts General Hospital doctors being sued rushed to his aid.
After that surprising end, some thought Weis, the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, and the doctors, both surgeons, would agree to a settlement to avoid a second trial.
But with just three weeks left until Notre Dame begins its preseason practice, Weis was sitting at the front of the courtroom Monday, in the same row as the two surgeons he has accused of negligence.
Charles Ferguson, director of Mass. General's surgical residency program, and Richard Hodin, a surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School, insist they gave Weis excellent care following his surgery in June 2002.
In opening statements to the jury, Weis's lawyer, Michael Mone, said the doctors acted negligently by allowing Weis to bleed internally for 30 hours after the surgery before performing a second operation to correct the complication. Weis was in a coma for two weeks and nearly died.
But William Dailey Jr., a lawyer for Ferguson and Hodin, said internal bleeding was a well-known complication of gastric bypass surgery. Dailey said Ferguson, Hodin and several other doctors who cared for Weis believed the bleeding would stop on its own, as it does in most cases following such surgery.
They also were very concerned that Weis could develop a pulmonary embolism -- a potentially fatal condition -- and did not want to perform another surgery with that possibility looming.
Both sides agreed the surgery itself went well. Ferguson performed the operation on a Friday, then left Weis in Hodin's care for the weekend, the attorneys said.
But early the next morning, Weis' condition deteriorated sharply and he began to bleed internally, Mone said. He said the second surgery wasn't performed until the following afternoon, a delay that sent Weis into a coma and left him with lasting pain and numbness in his feet.
"It was incumbent on the doctors to intervene," Mone said.
"Had they done what they should have done, Mr. Weis would not have sustained the injuries he sustained," he said.
But Dailey said the type of bleeding Weis experienced is a complication that sometimes happens despite the best efforts of doctors. He said Ferguson suggested that Weis consider putting off the surgery because if complications occurred, he could miss an entire football season. But Weis said he didn't want to wait and declined to participate in a preoperative program designed to prepare patients for the surgery and teach them how to eat after the operation, Dailey said.
"Mr. Weis indicated he knew full well what the risks were," Dailey said.
Dailey also told the jury that Weis, who weighed about 350 pounds before the surgery, lost about 100 pounds in the year after the surgery, and managed to land one of the top coaching jobs in the country at Notre Dame, his alma mater.
But Mone said Weis went through a long and painful rehabilitation and still suffers pain in his feet, forcing him to sometimes use a motorized cart.
The trial is expected to last one to two weeks.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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