ELKINS -- A Randolph County man and his wife have been awarded more than $1.85 million after he lost his eyesight during a spinal operation.
Melvin Heckel, 67, lost his vision from a 2002 surgery at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins. The surgery was performedy Elkins osteopath Kenneth D'Amato.
In court documents, Heckel says D'Amato performed elective back surgery after Heckel complained about back pain. After leaving the recovery room, Heckel immediately began complaining about vision loss. Now, he is legally blind.
Heckel previously received a $350,000 settlement from the hospital
Heckel was represented by Elkins lawyer David A. Sims and Charleston attorney Kent Carper, who also is a Kanawha County Commissioner.
Carper said the judgment, handed down on Jan. 13, is the highest medical malpractice award ever in Randolph County and the first verdict that favored a patient there in five years.
Carper said D'Amato failed to take any special measures to protect Heckel, who is anemic, during a prolonged spinal surgery in which he was in a prone position and lost blood.
Carper called the case one of the most significant ones since the state Legislature passed more restrictive medical malpractice laws last year.
"There are significantly less (malpractice) cases being filed because the caps have made it difficult," Carper said. "Most lawyers aren't capable of bringing the cases. The insurance companies have become empowered.
"Some insurance carriers have made corporate decisions to try anthing. The citizens of this state were promised that the (state) Insurance Commission would come down hard on companies doing that. I'm not aware that they're doing that."
The verdict of $1,558,300 for Heckel included money for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional pain, lost wages and a future life care plan. The $300,000 awarded to his wife was for loss of society, companionship and services and for care and services provided.
Carper said D'Amato's insurance company didn't try to settle the case before it went to trial.
Carper praised Heckel, a retired Elkins contractor who was active in the community, and the jury that deliberated for more than five hours to reach its verdict.
"The jury was very tentative and worked very hard," he said. "They deliberated until 8 05 p.m. They refused to eat after lunch. They just wanted to do their work."
Randolph Circuit Court case number: 04-C-163