Scoggins v. Smith, et al
Ann Scoggins, age 72, died from a heart attack at Athens Regional hospital in 2014 while being treated for a suspected partial bowel obstruction caused by opioid painkillers she’d been prescribed after a knee replacement surgery earlier that month. Scoggins’ husband, John, alleged that two doctors failed to diagnose her bowel obstruction in time to save her. Attorneys at the trial argued whether Scoggins died from medical malpractice or rare and unexpected complications.
Scoggins first saw Dr. Elizabeth Smith in the ER, complaining of pain and nausea. Smith ordered one x-ray which showed no sign of bowel obstruction and she diagnosed Scoggins with painkiller-induced constipation. Scoggins was admitted to the hospital and Dr. Daniel Moldoveanu ordered oral laxatives and an enema following abnormal blood test results and imaging that showed a likely obstruction. But after taking the liquids Scoggins aspirated during a round of vomiting, which led to her heart attack.
At the trial, John Scoggins’ attorney told jurors that if Smith ordered a CT scan instead of an X-ray, it would have shown a bowel obstruction. Courtroom View Network reported attorney William Bird’s argument to the jury: “Defendant Smith didn’t follow the rules…She should have followed differential diagnosis and ruled out obstruction, not just simply reached the opinion that it’s not very likely.” Defendant lawyers said that the doctors took appropriate steps under the circumstances and that Scoggins died from a tragic, yet rare complication not reasonably foreseeable.
Dr. Smith’s attorney countered that she properly treated Scoggins based on available medical evidence. “It is not malpractice to run with the obvious diagnosis… It’s not malpractice to consider the complete picture. It’s not malpractice to follow where the evidence leads you, away from obstruction. That’s what happens every day. Physicians make judgements.”
Jurors found Moldoveanu solely responsible for Scoggins death and hit him with a $6 million verdict, which included $5.5 million, the full value of a life, and $500,000 to Scoggins’ estate for her expenses, and pain and suffering.
To opine, to err, to make a judgement call, is human. But doctors are human and there is often a fine line between a doctor’s medical judgement and medical malpractice. Negligence v. Medical Judgment has often been on trial (e.g., Moss v. Zaw, 2009).
Sterling Brown v. Southeastern Pain Specialists, P.C., et al.
An anesthesiologist asked the Georgia Supreme Court on October 16, 2017 to vacate a $22 million jury award in a medical malpractice suit that found him responsible for a woman’s catastrophic brain injury and eventual death, according to Law360. He says the evidence at trial did not support an additional claim for ordinary negligence.
Dr. Dennis Doherty injected a steroid into patient Gwendolyn Brown’s back, which allegedly caused a lack of oxygen and led to a catastrophic brain injury and her death six years later. The medical negligence lawsuit also claims Doherty falsely informed emergency medical technicians and later a neurologist that the procedure was successful and that the patient had been breathing normally despite medical monitoring equipment indicating a lack of oxygen for 18 minutes. A jury awarded almost $22 million to Brown’s husband after determining that Doherty was 50 percent at fault, while Southeastern Pain Ambulatory Surgery Center LLC and Southeastern Pain Specialists PC were liable for the other 50 percent.
Doherty’s attorney, John Hall Jr., told the nine justices on appeal that the jury should not have been allowed to determine whether Doherty was liable for ordinary negligence, which does not require an expert medical opinion, because Doherty’s actions were all medical judgments, and that the jury made up of laypersons was improperly allowed to inject their own opinion regarding a physician’s standard of care.
READ MORE GEORGIA MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LEGAL NEWS
Brown’s attorney said the doctor’s negligence is obvious and ordinary negligence applies. The Georgia high court took the matter under submission—stay tuned.