A jury awarded more than $1 million Tuesday to a former USC women’s rowing team coxswain who suffered a near-life-threatening injury during gall bladder surgery.

Dionne Licudine sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Dr. Ankur Gupta alleging medical malpractice, saying she suffered injuries and was left with an unsightly scar during surgery to remove her gall bladder in February 2012.

The jury awarded Licudine $30,000 for past and future pain and suffering, $285,000 for past loss of earnings and $730,000 for future loss of earnings, for a total of $1.045 million, according to her attorney, Howard Kapp.

Kapp said he was “very pleased with the economic damages,” but found the $30,000 award for pain and suffering “incomprehensible.” He said even the hospital’s attorney estimated that if the jury found negligence, the award should be between $75,000 and $100,000.

Kapp argued during trial of the lawsuit that Gupta made mistakes that caused Licudine to suffer adhesions causing bowel obstructions as well as a visible scar. Defense attorney Raymond Moore blamed Licudine’s complications on the inherent risks of the procedure.

Kapp displayed for jurors a photo of Licudine strapped to machines in her hospital bed and another image displaying her scar. He said that despite the medical setback, Licudine rejoined her teammates a month later as they rowed to victory in the San Diego Crew Classic.

Moore said Gupta was not negligent and used sound medical judgment in inserting an instrument called a trocar into Licudine’s abdomen so that her body cavity could be viewed with the help of a camera attached.

“But that does come at the price of increasing the risks of striking organs because you can’t see them,” Moore said.

Gupta performed the surgery along with Dr. Brendan Carroll, who was dropped as a defendant in the case.

Kapp said Gupta damaged a blood vessel while inserting the device and that Licudine may one day suffer a complete bowel obstruction that would require more surgery.

Licudine sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Gupta in January 2013. Gupta’s alleged error required vascular surgery by another physician to save Licudine’s life, according to Kapp.

Her scar, which extends from her navel to her breastbone, caused severe emotional distress to a young woman who often wore two-piece bathing suits for rowing activities or during recreation, Kapp said.

“She can’t stand to look at herself in the mirror,” Kapp said.

Licudine was accepted at several law schools after graduating from USC, but her ongoing medical struggles have forced her to delay making a decision, Kapp said. Now 25, she has a life expectancy of another 57 years and she likely would have earned about $100,000 annually as an attorney, Kapp said.

Licudine was nominated as USC’s female Trojan athlete of the year in 2012.

— City News Service

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