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California Man Gets $9 Million for Unauthorized Penis Surgery

If you are having a hard time contemplating how “unauthorized penis surgery” can happen, you are not alone. I had the same reaction when I first saw the headline about this case. But as explained below, unauthorized penis surgery is something that actually happened to a man in California and he got a malpractice award of $9 million.

Before getting into the details of the case, it is worth noting here that California caps damages for pain & suffering in malpractice cases at $250,000. This is one of the strictest caps on damages in the entire country, but it didn’t prevent the plaintiff in this case from getting a big award for what happened to this penis.

This post is about this case but also provides settlement and verdicts in penis injury medical malpractice cases.  

Facts

The plaintiff in this case was a 41-year-old southern California man who was divorced and sexually active. After a routine physical exam, his doctors discovered a suspicious mass on his scrotum. He went to Loma Linda University Medical Center to have a simple exploratory surgical procedure done. The purpose of the surgery was to remove the mass in his scrotum and get a pathology review to determine if it was cancerous. The plaintiff was put under general anesthesia for the procedure. When the surgeon opened his scrotum during the operation, it was discovered that the mass was much larger than they initially thought and had grown into the plaintiff’s penis. Visual observation of the mass indicated that it might be a cancerous tumor. Even if it were not malignant, however, in the surgeon’s view it was likely that the mass would continue to grow. At this point, the surgeon had to decide whether to just remove the part of the mass in the scrotum or whether to go ahead and extend the surgery into the penis and remove the entire mass. Extension of surgery into the penis to remove the entire mass could possibly leave the plaintiff impotent for the rest of his life. The plaintiff was not awake to obtain his consent. His ex-wife was listed as his designated healthcare proxy and she was at the hospital during the surgery. However, the surgeon decided to go ahead and extend the surgery into the penis to remove the entire mass. No effort was made to obtain consent from the ex-wife in the waiting room. The mass that was removed was quite large (over 8 cm long). The surgeon’s suspicious about its malignancy turned out to be wrong, however. The pathology review determined that it was not cancer. After the procedure, the plaintiff developed a post-surgical infection and had to undergo emergency surgery. When he finally recovered, he was left with chronic pain, difficulty urinating, and impotence. In an effort to correct these problems, the plaintiff underwent 2 reconstructive surgeries on his penis. This helped alleviate some pain but did nothing to fix his permanent impotence.

Malpractice Claims for Unwanted Penis Surgery

The plaintiff eventually filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon and hospital for the unwanted operation on his penis. The malpractice suit asserted claims for both medical negligence and battery. The tort of battery applies when there is an “unwanted touching” that causes injury. Battery is a common claim in cases involving surgery or medical procedures performed without the consent of the patient (often referred to as “informed consent” cases). The case went to trial in 2018 and the jury ended up awarding $9,000,000 in total damages. This included $4 million for past economic damages and $5 million for future economic damages. The amount of damages awarded was eye-popping, considering the plaintiff documented less than $25,000 in past economic damages. The defendants appealed arguing that the $9 million dollar verdict was invalid because it clearly exceeded California’s $250,000 cap on pain & suffering damages set forth in § 3333.2(a) of the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (“MIRCA”). The California intermediate appellate court rejected this argument. In its opinion, the appellate court explained that California distinguishes between 2 categories of medical battery claims. One is subject to the MIRCA damages cap and the other is not. Medical battery is considered a valid intentional tort in situations where the doctor “obtains the patient’s consent to perform one type of treatment, but performs a substantially different treatment for which the plaintiff gave no consent.” Burchell v. Faulty Phys. (Cal. App. 2020). If the surgeon is performing an operation that the plaintiff has consented to, but then has to perform additional procedures in response to an emergency complication, then the medical battery claim is treated like medical negligence and the MIRCA cap applies. The appellate court found that the medical batter claim for the surgery on the plaintiff’s penis in this case clearly fell into the first category of valid intentional tort claims that are NOT subject to MIRCA. The plaintiff only consented to surgery on his scrotum. He did NOT consent to any surgery involving his penis. Extending the surgery to his penis was a substantially different procedure than what he consented to and it was not a necessary response to an emergency complication. The surgeon could have waited to obtain consent and then gone back and removed the mass from the penis in a second procedure.

Penile Injury Medical Malpractice Verdicts and Settlements 

So there have been a number of verdicts involving a penis-related injury.  It is, obviously, a very sensitive issue for a man.   Some of these verdicts reflect the seriousness of some of these injuries.  

YEAR / STATE

CASE / INJURY SUMMARY

RESULT

2019 – Arizona

A 60-something man visited a dermatologist for his penile tip lesion. The biopsy revealed Bowen’s disease. The man was given a cream for treatment. Upon returning two months later, the dermatologist found no signs of cancer. One year later, the man returned with new growth on his penis’ tip. He was given the same cream as last time. Two years later, the man was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on his penis that had spread to his lungs. He subsequently had his penis partially amputated. As a result, the man experienced sexual function loss and urinary function impairments. He alleged that the dermatologist’s failure to timely treat his cancer caused his permanent injuries. The man argued that a timely diagnosis could have prevented the partial amputation of his penis. A jury awarded him a $3,750,000 verdict.

$3,750,000 – Verdict

2018 – Georgia

A newborn underwent a circumcision. During the procedure, the nurse-midwife negligently severed his penis with a Mogan clamp. She then consulted the newborn’s pediatrician who told her to send him to the ER if bleeding resumed. However, the pediatrician failed to tell her to send him to a pediatric urologist for reattachment. Neither the pediatrician nor the nurse-midwife told the boy’s mother that his penis was severed. The severed tissue was kept in a refrigerator for several months before it was discarded. The boy subsequently underwent a circumcision completion, a urethra repair, and a buccal mucosal skin graft. Despite undergoing these procedures, the boy’s penis was left permanently deformed. His mother alleged that the health care providers’ negligence caused this permanent injury. She argued that a timely ordered reattachment procedure could have saved the boy’s penis. The jury awarded the mother a $30,995,000 verdict.

$30,995,000 – Verdict

2018 – New York

A newborn underwent a circumcision. Following the procedure, he suffered a penile adhesion, redundant prepuce, and a short frenulum. The boy underwent a revision circumcision. He was left with penile scarring and limited use of his penis. His father alleged that the physician’s poor circumcision techniques caused these permanent injuries. This case settled for $113,500.

$113,500 – Settlement

2017 – New York

A minor boy underwent a circumcision. He suffered a penis injury. The boy underwent remedial surgery for treatment. His penis was left with scar tissue and cosmetic deformities. The boy also experienced emotional distress. His parents alleged that the physician’s negligent performing of the circumcision caused his permanent injuries. They claimed she used improper equipment and excessively cut the foreskin. The physician denied liability. This case settled for $125,000.

$125,000 – Settlement

2017 – New York

A man received Trimix injections for his erectile dysfunction. He subsequently developed prolonged erections that resulted in priapism. As a result, the man was left with penile scarring and permanent genital area damage. He alleged that the prescribing physician’s negligence caused his permanent injuries. The man claimed he failed to offer less invasive alternatives before administering Trimix and failed to inform him of its risks. A jury awarded him a $3,041,490 verdict.

$3,041,490 – Verdict

Contact Miller & Zois About Surgical Malpractice

The Maryland medical malpractice lawyers at our firm have extensive experience with surgical malpractice and informed consent cases. If you were injured by a negligent or unwanted surgical procedure, let us know about your case.  We will give you our thoughts.  There is no cost.  

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