Man Paralyzed After Surgery : Hospital, 3 Doctors Paying $5 Million

Times Staff Writer

A young man who entered Downey Community Hospital five years ago for hernia surgery and lapsed into a "vegetative" state, has received a $5-million settlement from the hospital and three doctors who performed the operation.

The money was paid last month to an insurance company to purchase annuities to benefit David Allan Berg, according to Richard Aldrich, the attorney for the Downey man.

Aldrich said that during the hernia surgery, oxygen to Berg's brain was cut off for 20 minutes, leaving the 6-foot-5 college student a blind, mute and spastic quadriplegic. He has not left the hospital since the operation.

"We just don't know what happened," Aldrich said.

The lawyer said the family decided against a jury trial because it wouldn't "have accomplished much more . . . we obtained enough money to care for the boy for the rest of his life."

Berg's father, Byron Berg, a lawyer who gave up his practice to care for his son, said of the settlement, "It's really not one of great happiness, it's a relief, in a way, to have that behind us, but our son's situation hasn't changed."

The settlement, paid by insurers of the defendants, includes $1.5 million from Downey Community Hospital, $2 million from surgeon Ben T. Chafee and Gallatin Medical Group, $975,000 from assistant surgeon Dr. James Holman, $500,000 from anesthesiologist Dr. Margarita Keusayan, and $150,000 from Puritan Bennett Corp., manufacturer of the anesthesia machine, for a total of $5,125,000.

As part of the settlement, the hospital, doctors and manufacturer disavow any negligence or liability, said Aldrich and a lawyer for the hospital, C. Snyder Patin.

"Downey Community Hospital is simply a victim of circumstances," Patin said. "We feel that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Berg, who was 22 at the time of the operation, was a biology major at the University of South Dakota. He was studying to be a veterinarian.

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