Northern Light Health Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

A Penobscot County jury on Thursday awarded an Ellsworth man nearly $850,000 for a botched hernia operation that required additional hospitalizations to correct and kept him from working as a lobsterman for more than two years.

Stephen H. Robbins III, 49, sued Dr. Rafael J. Grossman and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in February 2019 in Penobscot County Superior Court alleging that the surgeon and the hospital were negligent.

The jury awarded Robbins nearly $150,000 for medical bills; $400,000 for past pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and emotional distress; $250,000 for future pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and emotional distress; and $50,000 for a permanent scar.

Robbins had requested between $1.75 million and $2.5 million in damages, said his attorney, Travis Brennan of Lewiston.

In repairing the hernia on May 17, 2017, Grossman used a piece of surgical mesh but put it in backward so that the adhesive side was against his bowel instead of the abdominal wall, Robbins told the jury in his opening statement Monday.

“This is what the medical field refers to as a ‘Never Event’ because it is a type of error that should never happen,” he said.

Ed Gould, the Bangor attorney representing Grossman and the hospital, admitted in his opening statement Monday that the doctor made a surgical mistake.

Spruce said Thursday that “Northern Light Health and all of its member organizations strive to achieve the highest standard of patient safety possible.”

“Although perfection remains elusive, this is nonetheless our goal. When mistakes happen, Northern Light Health endeavors to ensure that the affected patient receives the best care possible to address any unintended complications arising from the error,” she said.

Spruce also said the organization decided to go to trial after Robbins rejected what Northern Light Health believed was a fair and reasonable settlement.

Grossman’s error was discovered five days later, on May 22, 2017, when Robbins was admitted for emergency surgery due to a bowel obstruction in a New London, New Hampshire, hospital while visiting his girlfriend. Because of the complications caused by the surgery, Robbins was unable to work the rest of 2017. He became depressed and was hospitalized in January 2018 at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

Robbins, whose family has been lobstering out of Stonington for five generations, just recently felt well enough to return to that work, Brennan said. For much of this year, Robbins drove a taxi in Ellsworth.

This was the second time in two months that a jury has found a Maine hospital negligent. Last month, an Aroostook County jury awarded a Perham woman $1.2 million in damages in a medical negligence lawsuit against Cary Medical Center in Caribou over emergency room treatment.