Local doctors defend care of gunshot victim who blames them for leg amputation

David Yates Jan. 28, 2009, 5:52pm

Brian Sutton

Doctors don't have complete control over the body's process of healing, said a local physician during a medical malpractice trial that began this week in Jefferson County.

Dr. Charles Domingues, his colleague Dr. Daniel Thompson and the Beaumont Bone & Joint Institute are defendants in a case filed by a man who survived a gunshot wound but blames the doctors' negligence for the subsequent amputation of his leg.

The medical malpractice trial of Jerry Sylvester vs. Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital et al began Wednesday, Jan. 21, in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

The plaintiff and his attorney, Brian Sutton, maintain that Sylvester's treating physicians did not properly clean and treat his gunshot wound, which resulted in the infection that claimed his leg.

Sylvester was shot in the leg on April 14, 2004, and after receiving emergency care at Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth and continued treatment with Drs. Domingues and Thompson at Beaumont Bone & Joint.

He sued the medical facilities and physicians in 2006 for failing to save his leg from amputation. Christus, one of the original defendants, settled out of court in December.

According to his court testimony, Dr. Domingues was the orthopedist on call the night Sylvester was shot. Dr. Domingues was paged to come to Christus, and when he arrived around 2 a.m. he found that Sylvester's wound had already been cleaned and bandaged.

Dr. Domingues testified that he inspected the wound and after evaluation, decided blood was still flowing to the leg – making surgery unnecessary.

Although Dr. Domingues testified that he re-cleaned the wound and prescribed antibiotics for Sylvester, the plaintiff's counsel argued that had the doctor properly cleaned the wound, Sylvester would still have his leg.

"There are forces beyond our control," Dr. Domingues testified. "We can facilitate healing, but we cannot command it."

Dr. Domingues also said that even though the bullet shattered a bone in Sylvester's leg, the wound "was stable" and that he "wasn't expecting him to lose his leg, but it was certainly a possibility."

The physicians are defending themselves against 20 acts of alleged general negligence listed in Sylvester's original lawsuit, such as failing to detect his condition and failing to run the appropriate tests.

In court papers, the defendants maintain that the loss of Sylvester's leg "was solely caused by the occurrence in question (the shooting)."

"Defendant(s) possessed no right of control and had no responsibilities … for factors which solely caused the occurrence in question," the defendants' original answer states.

During the next few weeks, defendants Beaumont Bone & Joint, Dr. Domingues and Dr. Thompson will have to convince a Jefferson County jury they did everything in their power to save Sylvester's leg.

The defendants are represented by Marion Kruse Jr. of the Kruse Law Firm in Houston.

Sutton is a partner in the Sutton & Jacobs law firm in Beaumont.

Sylvester is asking jurors to award him money for his mental anguish, impairment and medical expenses.

According to a news report in the Beaumont Enterprise, Sylvester's assailant, Rico Holland, was 19 years old when he shot Sylvester and was also up on chargers for shooting Curtis Everett in the ankle on May 22, 2004, when the two met after a confrontation earlier in the day.

"Holland already had been sentenced … to 20 years for shooting Jerry Sylvester of Beaumont in the leg," the article states. "Sylvester later lost his leg from the knee down."

Neither the suit nor news report state why Holland shot Sylvester.

According to court documents, Holland appealed after he was handed the 20 year sentence, and on Oct. 10, 2006, justices seated on the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals denied his request for a mistrial.

Case No. D177-259

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