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DES MOINES, Iowa – A jury awarded $12.25 million Friday to an Iowa man who underwent debilitating prostate cancer surgery then learned he didn’t have cancer.
An Iowa Clinic pathologist mixed up slides of Rickie Huitt’s non-cancerous tissue samples with those of a man who had prostate cancer. The mistake led to an incorrect diagnosis, and a surgeon removed Huitt’s prostate gland in April 2017. The operation damaged nearby nerves, leaving Huitt impotent and incontinent.
The Iowa Clinic, which is the Des Moines area’s largest group of specialty physicians, admitted the error. But the two sides disagreed over how much compensation Huitt deserved.
The retired John Deere factory worker from Panora and his wife, Judy Huitt, filed suit, seeking $15 million in damages from the Iowa Clinic and its pathologist, Joy Trueblood. A lawyer for the clinic and the doctor recommended Friday that jurors in Polk County award $750,000.
“There’s never been a dispute that there was an unnecessary surgery,” defense lawyer Jack Hilmes told the jury Friday morning. Hilmes asked jurors to set “reasonable” damages. “Clearly, we disagree that $15 million is reasonable compensation,” he said.
The Huitts’ four-lawyer team was led by Nick Rowley, a nationally known medical-malpractice attorney who joined the case last week. Rowley told jurors that $15 million was a fair appraisal of how much the couple had suffered because of the Iowa Clinic’s negligence.
Rowley urged jurors to ignore the defense’s claim the Huitts didn’t deserve so much money because Rickie Huitt, 67, is still able to do activities such as mow his yard, attend the State Fair and pick up his granddaughters from school.
“For him, he’s lost his manhood,” Rowley said in his closing argument. “If he had lost his left leg, there wouldn’t be any reason to talk about his nose or his ears or his left hand.”
The trial, which began Tuesday, included emotional testimony from the Huitts about how the side effects of the surgery damaged their life.
Judy Huitt repeatedly teared up as she told jurors how her husband felt diminished as a husband because of his impotence. She echoed his earlier testimony that they had an active love life until his mistaken surgery. “It’s changed our world forever,” she testified Thursday.
Details of the lab mix-up weren’t discussed in the trial.
She said she and her husband were relieved the trial was over. It was embarrassing and stressful to testify about such personal problems, she said.
“It was horrible, like standing up there in front of everyone. It was raw,” she said.
When asked for comment after the verdict, Iowa Clinic spokeswoman Amy Hilmes replied in an email: “We are disappointed in the jury’s decision but have great respect for the legal process. We will be evaluating our legal options.”
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