Bad Day in Court Reversed? Appeals Court Sends Shockingly Low Jury Verdict Back to the Trial Court To Try Again

Key Points:

  • This article describes the case of a 60-year-old woman whose misdiagnosis in the emergency room went on to cause severe cognitive impairments and lifelong disabilities.
  • The woman’s husband filed a malpractice suit against the hospital asking for compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium with his wife.
  • Because the victim had untreated high-blood pressure issues that might have created the problem, the jury said that 49 percent of the blame went to the victim, and the awards were reduced significantly. The case was appealed and will be heard again by a different jury.

At The Millar Law Firm, we are big believers in our system of justice. We agree with other legal minds that the enlightened jury, after hearing all the evidence and listening to the arguments provided by attorneys for both sides, is best qualified to make the final judgment. Occasionally, though, the jury gets it wrong.

Fortunately, the law is written so that when that a jury makes a rare big mistake, it can sometimes be corrected through overturning the verdict and ordering a new trial. Here is a perfect example:

In This Case: Followed by the case number.

In the case of Evans v. Rockdale Hospital, LLC, 2018 Ga. App. (2018), we learn about a 60-year-old woman who awoke one night with what she described as the worst headache she’d ever had. This headache was accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. (This ‘thunderclap’ headache and the other symptoms are common when there is bleeding in the brain).

When the symptoms did not subside over the next two days, the woman’s husband drove her to the emergency room of the local hospital where she complained of dehydration, headache, diarrhea, and nausea. She told the nurses that she may have been suffering from food poisoning.

The triage nurse, accepting the woman’s self-diagnosis, did not note the original complaint of headache on the chart, but instead chose to use the chart template for gastro-intestinal issues. In this way the original complaint was effectively lost and the woman’s most telling symptoms with it.

The woman continued to complain of headache throughout her ER visit, but the headache and the fact that her blood pressure was extremely high did not serve to alert the staff that a brain bleed was in progress. She was discharged from the hospital with instructions to see her primary care physician and return to the hospital if the symptoms worsened.

Subtitle: Too little, too late.

In this case, the rest really is history. In a few days the woman’s symptoms became worse and resulted in her husband’s call to 911. The woman was transported to the hospital where she underwent tests that revealed a blood clot in her brain. The woman remained in the hospital where further testing revealed that she had endured several strokes as a result of a ruptured brain aneurysm. She underwent several surgeries and spent months in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility but the damage had already been done.

The woman is permanently disabled. She requires a feeding tube, she cannot walk or talk, is incontinent, has severe cognitive impairments, and requires 24-hour care.

The husband filed a malpractice suit against the hospital asking, also, for compensation for his loss of consortium, or society, with his wife.

At the trial, the parties centered their arguments over whether or not the woman was at fault because of her untreated high blood pressure that might have created the problem. Also at issue was whether or not the ER nurses exercised the proper standard of care.

Subtitle: 49% at fault.

In spite of the fact that the jury viewed a “day-in-the-life” video of the woman and her obvious need for constant care, the jury ultimately awarded money only for the woman’s past medical costs, and nothing at all for her pain and suffering or future medical expenses. Her husband was awarded $67,500 for his loss of consortium. However, because the jury said that the blame was 49 percent that of the victim, the awards were reduced significantly.

This verdict was appealed by the husband and set aside because the award was “so clearly inadequate as to shock the conscience and necessitate a new trial.” The entire matter will be heard again by a different jury and perhaps, this time, they will get it right.

No amount of money will make this man and woman “whole” again. But their suffering does carry with it a value. We’re happy that another jury, an enlightened one, will have the chance to see that what can be done will be done.

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