Seventy-one operations and a significant amount of pain and suffering later, a jury decided Thursday to award the Portage woman $3.5 million, the largest malpractice settlement in the state of Indiana. The jury rendered its unanimous verdict after brief deliberations following a four day trial in Lake Superior Court Judge James Richards' Hammond courtroom.

According to Ballard's attorney, Kenneth J. Allen, Legaspi permanently damaged Ballard's main bile duct by stapling it shut when he negligently mistook it for the duct leading to the gallbladder. After that surgery bile leaked into her pelvic cavity and she nearly died from infection.

"The doctor later tried to cover up his mistake by performing a very sophisticated biliary reconstruction surgery on Donna in August," Allen said. "We also asserted that the doctor never informed Donna of the risks she faced before she underwent the two surgeries he performed. The jury apparently agreed with us."

Ballard, who now might need a liver transplant said that she brought the case, "so that nobody else has to go through what I suffered. I thank God for Dr. Wiebke. Otherwise I would have never lived to tell this story."

Eric Wiebke, a Johns Hopkins-trained surgeon and professor of medicine at Indiana University performed a second reconstructive surgery on Donna, which saved her life.

"He (Wiebke) is currently her treating physician and reports from her last checkup that her prognosis is positive," Allen said.

Legaspi was not available for comment.

Indiana limits malpractice awards to $750,000 per occurence. The evidence proved four independent acts of malpractice: The failure to inform Ballard, before both surgeries of the risks she faced and the separate injuries she suffered during each of the two botched surgeries.

Allen said he anticipated the original judgement of $3.5 million would be reduced to $3 million under the law.

"In any event, the case was not brought forth for money, it was brought so that the truth could be told. It was, and the jurors thankfully heard it," Allen said.

Deborah Werner can be reached at dwerner@howpubs.com or at (219) 762-4334.

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