Slovenian Brain Specialist Ordered to Pay Record Malpractice Damages

The Tel Aviv District Court last week ordered one of the world's top surgeons, Professor Vinco Dolenc, who also operated on former cabinet minister Ora Namir, to pay an Israeli patient NIS 11.1 million in compensation. This is the highest payment ever awarded in an Israeli medical malpractice suit.

Judge Anat Baron determined that the specialist was responsible for damages caused to the plaintiff, Eliyahu Mesika, who underwent an operation for a benign tumor that was placing pressure on his brain stem. At a late stage in the court case, following the appearance of several witnesses, Dolenc and his attorneys simply stopped coming to court. Dolenc argued that the Israeli court lacked the authority to hear a civil lawsuit.

State Prosecution attorneys Uriel Ganihar and Nehami Meizlish said that international conventions made it possible to impose the compensation.

In 1992, when he was 33, an intracranial tumor was discovered in Mesika's head, in a location that doctors described as neurologically sensitive. The patient's family came to an agreement with Dolenc, according to which they agreed to pay the physician $24,000 for the operation. The operation took place in May 1992 in a hospital in Ljubljana. The following day, Mesika complained of a lack of feeling in his upper and lower extremities, and even required artificial respiration. He remained hospitalized in the ICU department of the hospital in Ljubljana for about six weeks. He then spent over two years in Soroka Hospital and the Beit Levinstein rehabilitation center.

In June 2005, Judge Baron ruled on the issue of liability. She determined that the medical care given to the patient by the doctor suffered from two primary failures: The doctor failed to carry out a CT examination at the first sign of respiratory difficulties and paralysis in the limbs, even though these phenomena are indicators of severe post-operative complications; the physician also blundered when he failed to move the plaintiff to the ICU immediately after leaving the operating room. Instead, he was moved to the ICU only the following day, at which point "irreversible damage had already been done to him." The judge ruled that there was a causal link between the failure to have a CT examination and the damages caused to the plaintiff.

Mesika, now 47, was deemed permanently and fully medically handicapped. He suffers from the complete paralysis of all four limbs and is unable to hold up his head. He also suffers from disturbances to his respiratory system and his swallowing mechanism, and therefore requires an external tube to be hooked up to his windpipe, as well as an artificial feeding system. He is unable to speak. Nevertheless, he is fully conscious and lucid. According to physicians, given the right treatment, he will have a natural life span.

The judge sharply criticized the manner in which the doctor chose to conduct his defense, by obstructing any possibility of arbitration of the lawsuit. He was compelled to pay court costs and the lawyer's fees, amounting to 20 percent of the court-ordered compensation award.