A jury in Culpeper County Circuit Court could not decide the outcome of a medical malpractice case brought on by Carol Nettles against the orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Rutkowski, which resulted in a hung jury, after 11 hours of deliberations. A hung jury means that the jury members cannot, by the required voting threshold, agree upon a verdict after an extended period of deliberations and is unable to change its votes. It is sometimes also called a deadlocked jury.
Ms. Carol Nettles, a 68 year old woman filed a $1 million medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Rutkowski for causing severe and permanent injury to her left collar bone, shoulder and arm as a result of surgery that Dr. Rutkowski performed on Ms. Nettles' clavicle on October 26, 2011 at the Virginia Orthopaedic and Spine Center. Out of the $1 million. Ms. Carol had originally been examined by Dr. Rutkowski to help ease some of her carpal tunnel pains at which time he recommended surgery. Dr. Rutkowski performed an operation that involved attaching a six-inch metal plate to her clavicle to help stabilize the bone. Unfortunately, the bone was so weak that Dr. Rutkowski could not attach the metal plate using traditional materials. Dr. Rutkowski instead used sutures to secure the metal plate to Ms. Nettles' clavicle instead of using traditional screws. It is believed that by using the sutures instead of the screws her clavicle suffered a permanent injury due to the sutures rough edges sawed through her clavicle. As a result of this permanent injury Ms. Nettles is unable to move her left arm and shoulder and has been left with a disfigured left collarbone and shoulder.
Dr. Rutkowski alleged to Ms. Nettles at a post-operative appointment that her injury was a result of her weak bone, when in fact it was because of the sutures he used, instead of the screws that he was suppose to have used to properly attach the metal plate to Ms. Nettles' clavicle. Ms. Nettles continued to complain about the pain to Dr. Rutkowski on various visits post operation and it wasn't until December 2011 that Dr. Rutkowski referred Ms. Nettles to a shoulder surgeon at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Dr. Angelo Dacus, who removed all of the hardware implanted by Dr. Rutkowski, alleviating some of the pain and discomfort that Ms. Nettles was experiencing, but still left her with a permanent injury.
Ms. Nettles therefore; made the following claims/charges against Dr. Rutkowski in the suit filed in Culpeper County Circuit Court:
- Failing to refer Ms. Nettles to a more qualified physician;
- Failing to explain the risks of the surgery;
- Failing to foresee that sutures would saw through the bone instead of stabilizing it, and
- Performing a complicated surgery that was not worth the risk to the patient's otherwise good health.
The jury was in the end unable to determine whether or not Dr. Rutkowski was completely responsible for Ms. Nettles permanent injury. The jury consisted of six people, three men and three women. During the deliberation process the jurors presented the court and the judge with five questions, all of which could not be answered because as Judge Susan Whitlock answered "The court cannot answer these questions because the evidence is in."