Local doctor loses $1.1M malpractice lawsuit

Posted

Wednesday, February 14
BRATTLEBORO -- A jury in U.S. District Court Monday delivered a $1,160,000 judgment against a Brattleboro doctor in a medical malpractice case.

Dr. John R. Bookwalter, a Brattleboro surgeon, was found to be negligent in the treatment of Charles Olanyk, 56, of Whatley, Mass., in 2001.

Olanyk is a plant manager at Leader Distribution Services.

Olanyk's attorney, Tom Lesser of Northampton, Mass., said Olanyk worked at Leader Beverage in Brattleboro and sought treatment from Dr. John T. Chard in Brattleboro in June 2001 for what Olanyk believed was a broken toe.

Lesser said Chard, an orthopedist, discovered that the toe was burned, not broken, and referred Olanyk to Bookwalter.

According to the original complaint filed in federal court, Bookwalter began treating Olanyk in 1987 after he was injured in a lawnmower roll-over.

Bookwalter continued to treat Olanyk until 2001.

In June 2001, Olanyk was referred back to Bookwalter with burns on his foot.

Olanyk, who is diabetic, apparently burned his left toe with a heating pad and didn't realize it, Lesser said.

Court documents show that Bookwalter saw the burn and noted in his chart that "this is a very threatening thing for Charlie. This foot is at risk if it gets infected."

Olanyk allegedly saw Bookwalter several times before he collapsed at his home on July 13, 2001, and was transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, then to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

His left leg was then amputated below the knee.

The lawsuit faults Bookwalter for the amputation and after-effects.

"Our allegation was that he should have been sent to a burn doctor," Lesser said. "Instead, a conservative treatment was followed."

The five-day trial culminated in five hours of deliberation on Monday, Lesser said. The jury could not reach a verdict at that time, and Judge J. Garvan Murtha requested they resume deliberations. Lesser said. Two hours later, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict in Olanyk's favor, Lesser said.

"We were very pleased with the verdict," said Lesser. "The jury recognized that a doctor didn't live up to the standard of care and did what was right for the case."

"I thought it was crazy to be sued for a self-inflicted injury," said Bookwalter on Tuesday.

Bookwalter said Olanyk was not only a patient of his for 15 years, but also a friend.

He said he had been treating Olanyk for ulcers on his leg for years. In 2001, when he saw the burn on Olanyk's foot, he prescribed topical antibiotics.

Bookwalter, who works at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said Olanyk was treated by him as an outpatient, and never received treatment through the hospital.

As for the $1,160,000, Bookwalter said he has insurance that covers up to $1 million.

He also said that he will remain in the position. "I have no plans to change," he said.

Bookwalter said during the suit, he could have avoided the verdict by settling, but his insurance company was confident they had a strong case.

In the big picture, he said, this case shows the difficulty of taking care of overweight patients.

Olanyk weighed 460 pounds in 2001, but lost 150 after surgery.

"In the end, everybody's health care costs go up because this guy couldn't take care of himself," said Bookwalter.


Patrick J. Crowley can be reached at pcrowley@reformer.com, or (802) 254-2311, ext. 277.


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