There will also be no appeal after a settlement was struck between the parties concerned immediately after the verdict was handed down. According to Law360 (12/12/17), the plaintiff also sought attorney’s fees and costs, a sum for which would have inflated the award to much higher monetary levels. In exchange for agreeing to forego any attempt to appeal the jury verdict, St. Francis agreed to pay Williams $25 million, offset by a separate $1 million reached earlier in a settlement with one of the primary doctors who treated her. Combined, the amount equals the $26 million awarded by the jury. Williams agreed not to pursue attorney’s fees and legal costs.
According to Court documents, Williams had been admitted to St. Francis for an elective surgical procedure to her neck. The procedure was deemed a medical success. However, three days after the procedure, Williams was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) at St. Francis complaining of pain, swelling to the neck and an inability to swallow.
Did the hospital doctor wait too long to treat a suspected hematoma?
Amidst speculation that Williams was suffering from a hematoma that was compressing her airway, Dr. Erik Westerlund was alleged to have allowed six hours to go by before he commenced treatment on Williams. That timeframe appeared to be in contravention to hospital protocol, which requires that an ICU patient receive treatment within two hours.
A hematoma is a swelling caused by internal bleeding as blood escapes from blood vessels and collects in tissue. The build-up of pressure can compress the airway, and a hematoma is thought to be the most serious post-surgical complication following surgery to the neck.
Legal counsel for the plaintiff claimed that Westerlund waited too long to have Williams moved back to the OR for removal of the hematoma. The aftermath left Williams with permanent brain damage, blindness and various physical disabilities.
Williams filed her Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit in the summer of 2014 against the hospital. She also filed an individual claim against Westerlund, which was settled prior to the trial for $1 million.
An expert witness was found to have flip-flopped
According to Court documents, Westerlund claimed he adhered to the standard of care and would not undertake anything differently if faced with a similar set of circumstances. That claim was supported through the testimony of a colleague of Westerlund’s – identified as the surgeon who performed the initial procedure on Williams at St. Francis – who opined his colleague had done everything right. However, according to Williams’ Georgia malpractice lawsuit attorney, the surgeon had previously served as an expert witness in a similar case for which he testified it was important to evacuate the patient back to the operating room, intubate the patient and remove the hematoma straight away.
The jury, it was reported, interpreted this revelation as the surgeon protecting his colleague and following six hours of deliberation found the hospital 100% liable for their employee’s actions. Westerlund was employed by the hospital.
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It should be noted that a pulmonologist who also treated Williams – and who is named in the case – was cleared by the jury of any and all wrongdoing. Dr. Christopher Tidwell had been called into a crisis and carried out, in the eyes of the jury appropriate care for Williams. His efforts were distinguished by the jurists from that of Westerlund and the nursing staff at the hospital.
As indicated, there will be no appeal of Williams’ Georgia malpractice lawsuit by St. Francis.
The case is Sandra Williams v. Christopher K. Tidwell M.D. et al., Case No. 2014-cv-882, in the Muscogee County Superior Court, Georgia.