A U.S. District Court jury yesterday ordered a Washington physician to pay $310,000 in damages to a woman who gave birth after she underwent a sterilization operation.
Attorneys for Sandra J. Hartke argued that Dr. William McKelway, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, failed to perform the sterilization operation properly, and that he assured her that she could resume sexual relations without the risk of becoming pregnant.
Hartke, 36, who was reprsented in court by her father, former U.S. senator Vance Hartke (D-Ind.), testified that she wanted to be sterilized because she almost died from complications that developed after she gave birth to her first child in 1964.
"I was terrified of having a [second] pregnancy," said Hartke, who has retained her maiden name in marriage. "I felt I was going to die."
In early 1978, she said, she discovered she was pregnant.
In March 1978, McKelway performed an abortion on Hartke and a tubal ligation that was designed to prevent further pregnancies, the court record showed.
"I informed her that the [sterilization] procedure to be used, although not 100 percent effective, was nonetheless highly successful," McKelway said in pretrial court papers.
In October 1979, Hartke discovered she was pregnant again.
On June 2, 1980, she gave birth to her second child, a girl. She risked having the child because another physician advised her that the pregnancy was too advanced to try another abortion, according to Paul Hartke, her brother and one of her lawyers.
After an eight-day trial, the jury found that McKelway failed to perform the sterilization operation properly. It also ruled that the physician did not properly advise Hartke of the risks of pregnancy that exist even after sterilization. McKelway had no comment after the trial.
McKelway's attorney argued that McKelway performed the operation properly and that he did advise Hartke of the risks of pregnancy.
Hartke, who is a secretary in her family's law firm, lives with her husband and two daughters in Loudoun County.
The plaintiff, who said she experienced medical problems after the birth of her first child, visited McKelway in early 1978 after another physician told her she was pregnant, according to court papers.