Gainesville, GA— Jurors handed down a $3 million verdict Tuesday for the death of a 42-year-old woman following a laparoscopic surgery, concluding what is one of the state’s first in-person, civil jury trials since COVID-19 forced a shut-down of such proceedings a year ago. Metcalf v. Northeast Georgia Medical Center, et al., 2018-CV-76A.
The Hall County Superior Court jury reached its verdict after about 5 hours of deliberations in the medical malpractice trial against Dr. Andrew Green, the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and others over the May 2016 death of Frances Mitchell
Mitchell, who had undergone laparoscopic surgery, returned to the hospital about 12 hours after the operation, complaining of severe abdominal pain. Although she was admitted and evaluated by Green, the physician who performed the surgery, she was ultimately discharged and died about 2 days later.
During Monday’s closing arguments, Lewis Law’s Kenneth Lewis, representing Mitchell’s family, requested about $24 million in damages.
The trial, in Hall County Superior Court, comes less than two weeks after Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton lifted a state-wide suspension on jury trials. The Georgia Supreme Court had first shut down the proceedings in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that closed courtroom doors across the nation. Justice Melton had briefly lifted the suspension in October 2020 before suspending trials once again last December.
The case focused largely on when Mitchell’s bowel perforated and whether Green’s post-operative care was appropriate.
The defense contended evidence showed the perforation occurred well after surgery, and that the the late, post-operative perforation, along with a combination of other health issues, caused an arrhythmia that stopped her heart.
During Monday’s closings, Huff Powell Bailey’s Scott Bailey, representing Green, reminded jurors of expert testimony concluding Mitchell’s bowel perforated 1-2 days before her death. Bailey walked jurors through medical records that he said showed that Mitchell’s health seemed to improve following her initial post-operative complaints of pain, and she had no tell-tale symptoms of sepsis when she was discharged from the hospital.
“The truth is in the records,” Bailey said. “She did not get worse, folks. She didn’t. That is completely inconsistent with a bowel leak.”
But Lewis reminded jurors of expert testimony he said showed Green breached the standard of care in failing to keep Mitchell longer for observation when she returned to the hospital, and in failing to order additional lab tests that could rule out a bowel perforation or sepsis.
“When [she] was in the hospital, do something,” Lewis said. “We wouldn’t be here if they repeated the labs. We wouldn’t be here if they monitored her for 8 hours.”
After the verdict, Lewis said he believed keys to the jury’s decision included a Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy report on Mitchell’s cause of death, as well as evidence that health care staff did not document phone calls concerning Mitchell’s post-operative complaints. “They have a policy that they’re supposed to document everything,” Lewis said, “and they documented nothing.”
This is a key win for Victims of Medical Malpractice. Doctors win 95% of all medical malpractice trials. Significant verdict in the midst of COVID. Again, Georgia had just lifted the bar on jury trials.