By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Porter wins lawsuit claim, awarded $3.5 million
Updated: Aug. 15, 2015

A Liberty County jury on Friday awarded $3.5 million for the death of Barbara Porter in a lawsuit brought by her widower, Kenneth Porter.

Barbara Porter, who had been chief operating room nurse at Liberty Regional Medical Center, died while being treated on July 30, 2011. The suit was filed against the three attending physicians, Dr. Stephen Weiss, Dr. Calin Badea and his wife Dr. Traiana Pacurar, who had been supervising Porter’s care.

The jury found LRMC was responsible for 50 percent of the damages, though it had not been named as a defendant since it had already reached an undisclosed settlement with Porter. Badea was not assigned any responsibility. Weiss was assigned 30 percent of the responsibility and Pacurar was held responsible for 20 percent of the damages.

Throughout the trial the plaintiff’s attorneys Craig Stafford and Jeff Arnold contended that Barbara Porter would likely be alive today if the doctor’s had provided proper care when she was admitted on July 29, 2011, to LRMC.

Porter had a history of gastric and pancreatic issues, diabetes and coronary disease. She was admitted to LRMC complaining of severe pain.

Twenty-four hours later she died of a heart attack.

The suit stated that the three physicians ignored common symptoms of heart disease, focusing solely on gastric and pancreatic issues.

Weiss testified Friday that he admitted Porter and in order for her to have an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) the morning of July 30.

An EGD examines the lining of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine. The doctor said Porter had requested the procedure since the pain had increased from two days prior when she talked to him about the possibility of getting the procedure done soon.

Weiss spoke with Pacurar and requested she do a follow up with Porter following the EGD. The night before the test a nurse caring for Porter called Badea to ask whether Porter should take some medicines because of the upcoming test.

Badea gave the nurse his recommendations. The following day, Porter underwent the EGD and Pacurar came to the hospital around 11 a.m., met with Porter and left around 1 p.m. Pacurar wrote orders for the nurses to do an EKG that day and draw blood for a cardiac enzyme test the following morning.

Porter died that evening.

At the center of the plaintiff’s case was the doctors’ failure to request an EKG prior to Porter’s EGD. The plaintiff’s expert witnesses said that would have been the proper standard of care.

Stafford displayed a chart listing symptoms of gastric issues and heart attacks to the jurors during testimony and closing arguments. The chart showed both conditions share symptoms.

Stafford said people don’t die from gastritis or pancreatitis.

“Let’s back it up for a second and forget all the experts and let’s use that common sense that your mom told you about and let’s just apply it for a second,” the defense attorney said. “First treat that which can kill you.”

He said the physicians were right in treating Porter for gastric issues but added, “It was unacceptable under any day under the sun not to also treat for MI (myocardial infarction). The symptoms overlap, ladies and gentlemen, but one of them is going to kill you while one of them is going to give you a slightly little red stomach.”

Stafford reminded jurors that Pacurar didn’t order the EKG immediately. And that her order for the cardiac enzyme test for the next day proved she was focused merely on the gastric issue.

During the trial, Stafford said, “Cardiac enzyme is a test that should be done now. You don’t wait to go looking for a heart attack tomorrow… Heart attacks kill right away.”

His experts testified that one of the first tests Porter should have gotten was an EKG.

Defense attorneys Chris Ray, Scott Bailey and Greg Talley said their clients provided proper care.

“Mrs. Porter did not have pre-heart attack symptoms,” Weiss’ attorney said during closing arguments. “They are not documented in the medical record.”

He said Weiss properly diagnosed existing gastric and digestive problems, which were what brought her to the hospital and what she was being treated for.

The defense also said any negligence was not caused by their clients but by the nursing and respiratory therapy staff at LRMC.

Based on Pacurar’s written order, an EKG was performed on Porter at 3:38 p.m. July 30, roughly three and a half hours before her death. Stafford said that was too late.

The EKG showed abnormalities.

Defense attorney Ray said during trial that the test results were never placed in Porter’s medical chart. That meant none of the attending physicians were aware of any abnormal results nor had reason to suspect coronary issues.

“The hospital did not get that information to the ordering physician,” he said.

Defense attorneys also said a separate suit had been field against LRMC. The plaintiff and his attorneys reached a settlement with LRMC before this trial.

Ray said the jurors should consider LRMC 100 percent responsible.

Stafford felt differently.

“Barbara Porter died of a preventable heart attack. Ain’t no doubt about it,” he said. “The hospital and the nurses have accepted their responsibility. There are only three individuals who still refuse to accept their responsibility for the preventable death of Barbara Porter and they sit in this courtroom. Four years and 14 days to the day of Barbara’s death they still don’t want to accept responsibility.”

The jury also was instructed to assign a percentage of monetary responsibility to the defendants they considered negligent.

Deliberations started just before 5 p.m. Thursday. Around 6, the court recessed for the day. Friday morning, the jury deliberated about an hour.

The trial lasted two and a half weeks.

Sign up for our e-newsletters