Bruce Schreiner, AP
A Kentucky truck driver who was wheeled into surgery for a simple circumcision, but awoke without part of his penis, lost his multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the urologist who cut off a cancer-riddled section of the organ. A six-man, six-woman jury deliberated briefly before saying it didn't agree with 64-year-old Phillip Seaton and his wife, Deborah, that Dr. John Patterson had failed to exercise proper care. Seaton also sued because he said he hadn't consented to the amputation.
The doctor said he decided to amputate less than an inch of the penis after he found potentially deadly cancer during surgery in 2007. The rest of the penis was taken off later by another doctor. Patterson testified that when he cut the foreskin, the tip of the penis had the appearance of rotten cauliflower, indicating cancer. A pathologist later testified that tests confirmed the diagnosis.
"What I saw was not a penis. What I saw was cancer," Patterson had testified. His attorney said during the three-day trial in Shelby County Circuit Court that the doctor saved Seaton's life with his decisive action. Seaton's attorney countered that Patterson should have sewn up his patient and consulted with the couple about such a life-altering surgery and his options to treat the cancer.
"He was mutilated," attorney Kevin George said during closing arguments that took about as long as the jury deliberations. "His manhood was taken." All jurors, including the forewoman, declined to comment as they filed out of the courthouse after the trial. Seaton, a former truck driver from with a long, gray ponytail and gray beard, and his wife of 35 years had been seeking nearly $16 million in damages for "loss of service, love and affection." They declined to comment after the verdict.
George said he planned to appeal on grounds that a doctor is allowed to change a consent for surgery only if there is a danger of imminent death. "There was no emergency, no reason to do it," George said of the amputation. Seaton, who has limited reading skills, signed a consent form for the circumcision. The doctor's lawyer said that consent gave Patterson the latitude to deal with unforeseen circumstances during the surgery. Patterson, who testified twice during the trial, said after the verdict, "I think we're feeling pretty good." He declined to say more about the highly publicized case, calling one reporter who tried to question him "a member of the tabloid press."
"We feel like justice was done," said the doctor's attorney, Clay Robinson. He said the doctor never wavered in his belief he did nothing wrong, but added: "No doctor ever wins a malpractice action. It's just a matter of how much you lose by." The key question of the case revolved around whether Patterson should have halted the surgery when he discovered the cancer, then consulted the Seatons before taking further action. The jury saw graphic photos of Seaton's groin after the surgery.
Seaton suffers from sleep apnea and high blood pressure and received Social Security disability payments after arthritis and bad eyesight forced him to give up his job hauling sand to construction sites, according to court testimony. He never made it past the fifth grade in school, but can write his name and recognize small words, according to his attorney. Seaton showed little reaction through most of the three days of testimony but said on the witness stand that he was a "bad case" emotionally after hearing the news of the partial amputation and had wanted to run from the hospital.
"I didn't have no say in it," Seaton said. "I wasn't told what had to be done. It was just done." According to court testimony, Seaton had told his general practitioner during a routine examination that he was experiencing burning when he urinated and was prescribed a cream. When symptoms persisted, the doctor later referred Seaton to Patterson, who recommended a simple circumcision, according to court testimony. Seaton had testified that he had not been told prior to the surgery that it would be anything but a circumcision, and had even joked with his doctor about the procedure.
The doctor's attorney said Patterson prevented the cancer from spreading, and called the claims of medical malpractice "nothing short of ridiculous." "Mr. Seaton is here today with his family because that cancer was cured," he said in closing remarks. George said the ruling could have broad ramifications for patients whisked into surgery. "If this case stands, you go into a surgery ... whatever you consent for you may end up having something done to you even when there is no emergency," he said.