Home Medical Malpractice Supreme Court tosses punitive damage claim in Valley malpractice case

Supreme Court tosses punitive damage claim in Valley malpractice case

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In a closely watched medical malpractice case that attracted a Who’s Who of health care advocates, the New Jersey Supreme Court has sided with The Valley Hospital and its director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery in a lawsuit about a 43-year-old woman’s death after a surgical device spread cancer in her abdomen.

Valley, Dr. Howard H. Jones and various hospital administrators will not have to face claims for punitive damages, which are highly unusual, in the case filed by family members of Viviana Ruscitto, a Nyack, New York, woman who died in 2015, leaving a 2-year-old son. The lawsuit now is returned to a lower court for a decision about compensatory damages, which are more common.

The case is one of several filed around the country on behalf of women who died after procedures with a power morcellator, a tool that cuts the uterus or fibroid tumors into pieces small enough to be sucked out through a small incision. The device eliminates the need for open surgery, which has a longer recovery time than laparoscopic surgery. But in some cases, it can spread previously undiagnosed cancer cells throughout the abdomen and shorten patients’ lives.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has subsequently recommended that power morcellators be used only with a containment system to catch all of the tissue as it is broken up. And it recommends that the device be used only with “appropriately selected” women whose chance of cancer is minimal and who have been informed of the procedure’s risks.

A Valley spokeswoman declined to say whether the hospital has changed its policy regarding the use of power morcellators. “It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation,” said Megan Fraser, vice president of communications and marketing.

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