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$4.5 million judgement

Hinesville woman wins suit

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POSTED: February 22, 2007 5:07 a.m.
A Hinesville woman has won an apparent record judgment on a malpractice suit in State Court.
Jury members, who heard Antoinette D. Hastings vs. Bobby Herrington, MD, decided on a $4.5 million judgment on Jan. 24. The judgment came at the end of seven days of testimony and arguments.
“This is a permanent injury,” said Craig Stafford, who was co-counsel with Erik Olson of Atlanta for Hastings. “Her personality has changed.”
Lead counsel for Herrington, Michael Frick of Brunswick, declined to give his reaction to the judgment, saying it would be inappropriate. He did say he expected the defense to challenge the judgment.
“We are in the processes of evaluating our post-trial remedies,” Frick said, “either a motion for a new trial, an appeal or a directed judgment.”
The defense has about a month to decide and file new motions.
The defense’s original answer denied any negligence by Herrington.
The case started on Feb. 8, 2004, when Hastings was admitted to Liberty Regional Medical Center with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Her doctor was William B. Roberson.
Pleadings say that over the next five days she got worse, especially her breathing. So at about 2:10 a.m. on Feb. 13, Roberson asked Herrington to put a breathing tube in her.
Herrington, who used to have a private practice in Hinesville, is an emergency room physician working then and now for the Schumacher Group out of Louisiana. Liberty Regional CEO Scott Kroell said the hospital contracts with Schumacher to staff the ER.
A request through the ER at Liberty Regional for a call from Herrington for comment did not draw a response.
After the tube was in, Hastings improved. But when reviewing the tube placement on a chest X-ray, Herrington became concerned about a possible pocket of air or fluid outside her lungs, Stafford said testimony revealed. And the doctor decided to put another tube in, this one through the chest to try to drain the pocket.
“At 3:25 a.m., ...Herrington...chose to insert a chest tube into Ms. Hastings right hemithorax because Dr. Herrington thought Ms. Hastings had pneumothorax,” the original complaint said.
Dissatisfied with the tube placement, Herrington tried to insert it four times before Hastings condition became critical and she was transferred to a Savannah hospital, Stafford said.
The defense contended that Herrington’s attempts to insert the chest tube damaged Hastings lungs, lowering the oxygen level in her blood.
Testifying for the plaintiffs as an expert on medical issues, Dr. Robert Mulliken of Chicago said he did not believe the X-ray that raised concerns with Herrington showed any need for the chest tubes.
Hastings attorney said she was released from the Savannah hospital after about seven weeks of treatment. During her recovery, however, family and friends started to notice changes.
“She has memory loss and there are certain cognitive things she just cannot do,” Stafford said.
So about a year after her stay in the hospital, Hastings underwent a brain scan that showed she had suffered brain damage. The plaintiffs contended the damage resulted from the lack of oxygen when her lungs were damaged.
The plaintiffs, however, does not contend the decision implies Herring was practicing poorly.
“This has nothing to do with him being a bad doctor or doing it intentionally,” the attorney said. “It is just a case of negligence.”
Stafford said he believes the jury’s judgment is so large because the plaintiffs had experts testify about the costs of living over a lifetime, as well as potential earnings during that time. Hastings was 24 in 2004.
Liberty County Clerk of Courts Barry Wilkes said he believed the judgment set a record for any court in the county.
“To my knowledge, the monetary award in the above-captioned case is the largest that has been returned by any jury during my tenure as clerk over the past 24 years,” Wilkes said.
Stafford said his and Olson’s contact with Hastings called for any judgment to pay expenses as well as a third of the total to the attorneys.

 

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