Defendants Change In Transplant Lawsuit: Family Drops Memorial, Doctors, Nurse From Wrongful-Death Suit

Published on January 31, 2007
© 2007- The Press Democrat

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, two of its doctors, a nurse and the hospital’s transplant program have been dropped as defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a Santa Rosa woman who died last year after receiving a cancerous kidney.

The woman, Diane Jurrens, 48, contracted ovarian cancer introduced by the transplant kidney, as did a Southern California man who received the donor’s other kidney, according to the lawsuit filed by Jurrens’ husband, Darwin.

Court papers filed in the past month show the deck of participants has been shuffled to reflect a largely different group than when the suit was originally filed in August.

Jurrens’ attorneys have dismissed their claims against the hospital, the hospital’s transplant center, Drs. Thomas Duckett and James Palleschi and nurse Nancy Swick, who coordinated the transplant center.

Claims also were dropped against the United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates organ procurement between hospitals nationwide.

Remaining as defendants are St. Joseph Health System’s Nephrology Associates and its Santa Rosa physicians Desmond Shapiro, Gopa Green and Benjamin Fritz.

The suit added as a defendant Gift of Life Michigan, a nonprofit group that screens and evaluates potential organ donors, and retrieves, transports and tests organs and tissue for transplant compatibility. It is based in Ann Arbor.

Diane Jurrens’ mother, Maria Dollinger of Guam, is a new plaintiff in the case, along with Jurrens’ husband.

In papers filed Jan. 8, Jurrens and Dollinger claim Gift of Life failed to adequately screen the donor and kidney before facilitating the transplant; failed to do a complete post-harvest autopsy that could have revealed the donor’s cancer; and failed to perform reasonable tests to exclude a diseased organ.

A pretrial ruling in the case has restricted the damages that may be awarded to Darwin Jurrens or Maria Dollinger for Diane Jurrens’ emotional distress.

Greg Spaulding, an attorney for Memorial Hospital, said it was appropriate to drop the hospital and others from the suit.

“The plaintiffs’ attorneys realized that they … were not the appropriate parties, that they didn’t have legal responsibility in the matter,” he said. “It’s easy to name someone in a lawsuit, but proving it is a different story.”

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages. Trial dates haven’t been set.

Richard Sax, Jurrens’ attorney, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Memorial Hospital discontinued its kidney transplant program in September, citing a low number of patients and difficulty replacing retiring doctors and nurses.

The lawsuit wasn’t a factor in the closure, hospital officials said.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or