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Doctor Defeats Negligent Sterilization Suit

A Baltimore County jury deliberated about 20 minutes yesterday before deciding a Towson urologist was not negligent when he performed a vasectomy on a man, who later fathered a child.Mark A. Minnick Sr., of Bel Air, said that Towson urologist Marc H. Siegelbaum negligently failed to sever one of the vas deferens, a sperm-carrying duct, when performing a vasectomy in June 1991.In the trial, which started Monday, Siegelbaum argued that he followed acceptable standards of care, and the vasectomy reversed itself on one side in a process called “recanalization.”“There could be a reversal in a properly performed vasectomy,” Siegelbaum told the jury of five men and one woman Wednesday.Using a piece of corded string, Siegelbaum illustrated part of the vasectomy process for the jury. First, he clamped the cord in two places and cut out a small segment. He inserted a needle through the “tube” and sutured it, after which he folded the tube back and bound it snugly. (In an actual vasectomy, he said, he also would cauterize the tubes to make sure they didn’t grow back together.)

“It’s all about money.”Robert W. Goodson

“It is triple protection for trying to prevent this kind of thing from occurring,” Siegelbaum said.Triple protection wasn’t enough, however, and Minnick impregnated his wife, Norene Minnick, in late 1995. She delivered the baby girl, the couple’s third child, in July 1996.Siegelbaum’s partner, Joseph B. Murphy, testified he examined Minnick’s semen samples about two months after the surgery in 1991 and they were “negative” for sperm.Minnick, who owns an auto body shop, said he couldn’t afford the cost of another child. His attorney, Bryan A. Levitt, told the jury in closing arguments that Siegelbaum was an excellent but not infallible doctor.“He made a mistake on this given day,” Levitt said.Attorney Robert W. Goodson, who represented Siegelbaum, reduced the case to one sentence in his closing argument.“It’s all about money,” he said.Mark and Norene Minnick asked the jury to award them $271,256.18 to compensate them for their pain and suffering and for the cost of raising the child until she reaches age 18.No scarring foundMinnick had a second vasectomy performed by urologist Horst K. A. Schirmer in May 1996, and Schirmer “advised the plaintiff that the right vas [deferens] had not been transected at all, during the vasectomy attempted by” Seigelbaum, according to the complaint.“I did not find any evidence of any scar tissues on the right side,” Schirmer testified at trial.However, other witnesses testified that evidence of an earlier vasectomy may not be visible because surgeons cut extremely short incisions when performing the process and that Schirmer may not have seen the same area that Siegelbaum severed years earlier.Schirmer, a urologist for more than 30 years, also acknowledged that he has performed one vasectomy that failed due to recanalization.A landmark case that allows parents to recover for negligent sterilization arose in Baltimore County, said Circuit Court Judge John F. Fader II, who presided over the Minnick trial.That 1984 case, Jones v. Malinowski, dealt with an unsuccessful bipolar tubal laparoscopy. Affirming a verdict of $70,000 for the woman patient, the Court of Appeals said that the principles of medical malpractice applied in such cases.