by by Katheryn Hayes Tucker
Medical malpractice defense attorneys Paul Weathington and David Hanson of The Weathington Firm secured a defense verdict for a doctor last week in a long-running case where they were opposite two well-known plaintiffs lawyers, lead counsel Lloyd Bell of the Bell Law Firm and appellate specialist Darren Summerville of the Summerville Firm.
The case was tried in 2019 to a $4.7 million verdict. But Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison removed an emergency room doctor from the case just before it went to the jury, leaving him with zero liability. Weathington was the lawyer who persuaded the judge to order the directed verdict in favor of his client, Dr. Glenn Bloom of Cherokee Emergency Physicians, arguing that the plaintiff’s expert’s qualifications didn’t match the requirements of the case.
The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed Morrison’s directed verdict in July 2021.
The second trial before Senior Judge Jerry Baxter took a week and ended on Aug. 23. Weathington said the jury took four hours to return a full defense verdict, even though the plaintiff’s counsel had asked for $29 million, plus 40% attorney fees.
According to attorneys and court records, Connie Lockhart tried to kill herself on Feb. 23, 2012. The intervention of two persons—not defendants in the lawsuit—changed what could have been a tragic outcome. Her daughter noticed worsening depression and called her mother’s psychiatrist. Lockhart then admitted to him on the phone that she had taken two handfuls of her blood pressure medicine. He called 911. That’s how she wound up in the Northside Hospital Cherokee emergency room in Canton, Georgia.
Treatment saved her life but destroyed the lower part of her right leg. After she was moved to the main Northside Hospital in Sandy Springs a week later, doctors amputated her leg below the knee.
“She’d been through a lot,” Bell said after the first verdict. She was 50 at the time and working as a legal assistant. Her grown son had died of a seizure. Her husband had died of a heart attack. Her primary care doctor had put her on an antidepressant—one of those that comes with an increased suicide risk warning, this one applying to younger people. When it didn’t help, she called her doctor’s office. The physician’s assistant doubled the dose. Two days later, she tried to take her own life.
What caused her to lose her leg was that an emergency room doctor—Weathington’s client, Bloom—misplaced a central line into an artery instead of a vein, started a saline drip and moved her to the intensive care unit, where he expected it would be checked before being used for medicine. The doctor and nurse who saw her next in the ICU did not catch the mistake, according to court records and lawyers on both sides.
Weathington also emphasized the challenges Bloom faced. He tried to insert a central line into the neck but could not safely do it because Lockhart was “combative,” as Weathington put it in the defense summary of the consolidated pretrial order. She even asked Bloom, “Can you just euthanize me?”
So he placed the line into the groin instead. But, because she was so sick and her blood pressure was so low, the usual “landmarks” for correct placement—such as feeling the difference between artery and vein—failed him, Weathington said. She soon was moved to the ICU, where Bloom knew the line would be checked.
Except it wasn’t—not right away. What happened when she arrived at the ICU was that she went into cardiac arrest. The staff called a “code blue” and resuscitated her. An ICU doctor instructed a nurse to check the line, but the nurse failed to follow that order, according to the lawyers and court records. Although the nurse did notice the leg turned blue and pulseless and reported that to the doctor, who ordered a test, he did not check her himself that night.
After the shift change, another nurse came on duty and figured out the line was misplaced. She alerted the doctor, who immediately ordered stopping the drugs that were going into the artery instead of the vein, causing the damage.
The hospital settled for an undisclosed amount before the first trial regarding the claim against the nurse, as did the primary care clinic with regard to the physician’s assistant who doubled the dose of antidepressant just before the suicide attempt. Even though they were not parties to the case at trial, their names were on the verdict form.
The jurors in the first trial returned after nearly eight hours of deliberating, then left again, saying they made a mistake. When they came back, they presented a $4.7 million verdict with fault apportioned. They placed 60% liability on the hospital, which was no longer a party because it had already settled. They gave 10% liability to the primary care practice, also not a party to the case. They placed 27% of the fault on an ICU doctor with whom Bell said he negotiated a $1 million policy limit settlement after the first verdict.
The second trial was against only the ER doctor.
“The jury heard a case in which a woman who attempted suicide was suing the ER doctor who saved her life, because in the course of his treatment he made a mistake that caused a below-the-knee amputation of one of her legs,” Bell said in an emailed response to a request for comment. “That’s a very difficult posture for a plaintiff’s case, and the jury did not see it our way.”
It was a tough battle, both sides agreed.
“We fought hard, but we lost,” Bell said. “The loss is hard to take, because Connie Lockhart is in dire need, and the original posture of the case was much stronger for the plaintiff. Originally, the case was against not only the ER physician, but also the hospital and a downstream physician—who carried much more of the blame.”
Bell added a nod to his opponents.
“And, of course, the defense had highly capable counsel in Paul Weathington and David Hanson. It was a hard-fought trial on both sides, but we congratulate Paul and David on their vigorous, and successful, defense of their clients,” Bell said.
“Mr. Bell and Mr. Summerville are both excellent, very skilled trial attorneys who are incredibly successful. I respect them very much,” Weathington said by email when asked for comment on the trial. But he added he believes his opponents made a “strategic error” when they asked for attorneys’ fees on top of the award request, which required a claim of stubborn litigiousness.
“Dr. Bloom had simply defended himself and not done anything to multiply or extend the litigation,” Weathington said. “More surprising was Ms. Lockhart’s refusal to acknowledge any gratitude on her part for the physicians who saved her life.”
“That was a calculated risk to address a difficult problem,” Bell said, noting the complicating and limiting factors of the case history. “Mr. Weathington is, of course, a highly capable adversary and represented his clients well.”
The case is Lockhart v. Bloom, No. 16EV003451.
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