Disabled Croton woman awarded $3.5 million in malpractice suit

Gannett Westchester Newspapers
October 19, 1988
Disabled Croton woman awarded $3.5 million in malpractice suit
Richard Liebson, Staff Writer

A Westchester County jury has awarded $3.5 million to a Croton-on-Hudson woman who suffered permanent nerve damage after being treated for a broken foot at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in North Tarrytown in 1981.

In awarding the money to Cherrie DeAugustinis on Oct. 7, the jury found that physicians George Burak and Richard Fenton departed "from good and accepted medical practice" in treating her foot, causing her subsequent permanent injury. The jury also found the Phelps Memorial Hospital Center was "responsible for the malpractice."

Lawyers for the hospital and the doctors said they would ask that the verdict be set aside or that the award be reduced.

"This isn't over yet," said DeAugustinis' lawyer, Richard Godosky. "There's been an award for $3.5 million, but we're waiting for the judge's decision on defense motions to reduce the verdict."

Godosky said the lawyers would meet with New York State Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Coppola next week to discuss the award.

"I was really surprised at the verdict," said Kevin Conboy, who represented the doctors. "I did not feel that the verdict was justified or that the award was justified. Throughout the trial I maintained that the medical attention given Mrs. DeAugustinis was excellent and had nothing to do with the subsequent complications."

DeAugustinis, 37, broke her foot in September 1981 while playing with her daughter. She said a cast put on her leg by Burak had to be cut down by Fenton the next day to relieve pressure on her foot, which had become discolored and painful.

After three weeks, DeAugustinis said, the cast was removed and Fenton told her she had developed sympathetic reflex dystrophy - a nerve condition that made it extremely painful for her to put weight on her foot.

She filed the suit against the doctors and the hospital in 1983.

"I was very happy with the jury's decision," DeAugustinis said. "I've felt like I was on trial through this whole thing. It was a long, strenuous trial and I'm glad it's over."

She now walks with the aid of a cane and a full leg brace. A morphine pump implanted in her stomach allows to put weight on her foot.

Hospital lawyer Eugene McGuiness would not comment other than to say that he would submit motions by the end of the week. He would not say what those motions would be.

Hospital spokeswoman Linda Spear said, "There has been no resolution. The matter is still before the court and no further comment will be made until it is resolved."

The $3,531,029.50 award calls for the doctors and the hospital to pay DeAugustinis $2.1 million for pain and suffering, $1 million for loss of enjoyment of life, $271,000 for impairment of earning ability, $88,529.50 for medical expenses and $71,500 for loss of earnings. The doctors, both orthopedic specialists, were partners in a Tarrytown practice when they treated DeAugustinis. Buran now has a practice in North Tarrytown. Fenton is retired.

DeAugustinis, a graphic artist, said she "was unable to work or do anything that required walking. I was never able to put weight on my foot without a tremendous amount of pain. I spent a total of a year in the hospital and have been receiving physical therapy on and off since 1981. I was on crutches for five years."

A morphine pump was implanted in her stomach in 1985 by doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. The pump, which must be refilled every two weeks, send morphine to her spinal cord. "The pump ultimately allowed me to put weight on my foot without pain," she said. "The ultimate goal is for me to be able to walk without the pump. There is hope, but I really don't know how much. I know the doctors will have to take the pump out eventually because there is a danger of infection and other complications."