Clinic Must Pay $7.5 Million For Negligence

CLEVELAND (AP) - A jury ordered the Cleveland Clinic to pay $7.5 million for causing severe brain damage to a Kansas woman by performing experimental surgery on her without consent.

Mary Lou Zimmerman of Shawnee, Kan., was 58 when she came to the Clinic in 1998 for brain surgery to end her 30-year battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Zimmerman thought she was getting routine surgery with a 70 percent chance of success, her lawyers argued.

Instead, she received an unusual combination of procedures that the surgeon, Dr. Gene Barnett, had done only once before. Zimmerman had not signed a form agreeing to that combination, her lawyers said.

The surgeon inserted electrical probes through four holes he drilled in her skull. The intent was to burn small holes in parts of the brain thought to be responsible for her disorder.

The Clinic no longer does the combination surgery but denies that the surgery was experimental.

The operation and a brain infection that followed left her unable to walk, stand, eat or use the bathroom by herself, said Robert Linton, one of her lawyers. She knows who her husband is but has no short-term memory.

"It's the worst case I've seen in 20 years," Linton said. "She lost everything -- except her awareness of how she's now different."

In a written statement, the Clinic said it would appeal Wednesday's unanimous Cuyahoga County Common Pleas jury verdict.

"We are outraged by this decision. This case exemplifies the need to make the distinction between a complication leading to a bad outcome and negligent care," the statement said. "This was not a case of negligent care. Our physician provided an excellent standard of care and acted in the best interest of the patient."

Zimmerman's husband, Sherman, said the cost of his wife's care has exhausted his insurance coverage.

"I've got a lot of expenses ahead of me," said Sherman Zimmerman, who took early retirement to care for his wife full time. "This will allow me to give her the treatment that I think she deserves."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)