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Jury Finds Deceased Orthopedic Surgeon Negligent; Awards Indiana Family $744,000

When Dean and Tracy Dixon attended their son’s wrestling match in January 2012 they were forced to watch as his shoulder was driven into the unforgiving mat. He came up in excruciating pain and could not continue his match. Six days later, the pain had still not subsided, so the Dixons brought their son, then 16, to South Bend Orthopaedics. After a consultation with Dr. Willard G. Yergler, the orthopedic surgeon of the University of Notre Dame’s football team for more than three decades, Dean and Tracy’s son was diagnosed with a low-grade joint injury. The family and doctor decided to see if the shoulder healed itself, but two months later the pain persisted.

The Dixons returned to South Bend Orthopaedics in April 2012 and upon further review Yergler, who passed away in May 2016, gave the family two options. They could opt for the Mumford procedure, an operation where the end of the clavicle is removed, or their son could learn to live with the pain. The attorney representing the Dixons characterized these two options as a “false choice.” The family then decided to go for the surgery that they now allege was unnecessary and will cause their son to suffer for the rest of his life.

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“It was not an either/or decision,” said the Dixon’s lawyer.

In June 2015 the family filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Yergler, claiming that the operation was unneeded. A panel of orthopedic surgeons agreed, concluding that less invasive pain treatments should have been explored before surgery was ever considered. Earlier this month, after a two-day trial, a St. Joseph Superior Court jury found in favor of the Dixons, awarding them $744,000, which is $124,000 more than the family was seeking.

It is not clear if the attorneys representing Dr. Willard G. Yergler’s estate will appeal the decision. If the appeal is not filed Yergler’s malpractice insurance will pay the Dixon family $250,000 and the remainder will come from the Indiana Department of Insurance’s Patient Compensation Fund.

“In my opinion, justice has been served,” said the lawyer representing the Dixons.

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