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Jury finds MeritCare not liable in lawsuit

MeritCare doctors were not negligent in the care of a 71-year-old man who died shortly after a liver biopsy three years ago, a Cass County jury decided Monday night.

MeritCare doctors were not negligent in the care of a 71-year-old man who died shortly after a liver biopsy three years ago, a Cass County jury decided Monday night.

Roy Haugtvedt, a native of Finley, N.D., who served in the Korean War and worked most of his life on farms, was on blood thinners when he died July 20, 2000, from internal bleeding. His family sued MeritCare Health System for malpractice, saying the biopsy was unnecessary and poor communication between doctors led to the surgery.

The verdict, which came after six days of testimony and five hours of jury deliberation, saved MeritCare from paying nearly $700,000 in damages.

"We felt that the doctors who cared for Mr. Haugtvedt provided quality care, and we think that's what the evidence showed," MeritCare attorney Wayne Carlson said Tuesday.

Haugtvedt had returned to the hospital about three weeks after a coronary artery bypass because he had stomach pains and was short of breath. Tests revealed what looked like a mass in his liver one-third the size of the organ, and a biopsy was ordered to rule out cancer. The mass was later found benign.

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Though the blood thinners Haugtvedt used after his heart surgery made the biopsy riskier, they did not prohibit it, MeritCare doctors said at trial.

What troubled the family was that it never knew doctors had suspected cancer or that the blood thinners made the biopsy more dangerous, said Curt Haugtvedt, Roy's son.

"There was no discussion at all that they (doctors) were looking for cancer," he said. "That was not discussed with the family."

Also frustrating the family was knowing that since Haugtvedt's death, Curt said, MeritCare has formally addressed its policy on liver biopsies and Plavix, the blood thinner Haugtvedt used.

In interviews with attorneys for both the plaintiff and defendant, radiology nurse Cynthia Jorud said the policy change came after Roy Haugtvedt died. That evidence was not admissible in court, though, because of the chilling effect it could have on hospital policy changes, said Keith Miller, the family's attorney.

Though he would not comment on hospital policy, Carlson said doctors would treat Haugtvedt's condition the same today as they did in 2000.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

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