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State court awards $6 million verdict in wrongful death case

A Liberty County State Court jury returned a verdict granting a Louisiana woman $6 million in the 2018 death of her mother.

Eva Mae Gregoire was 62 when she died December 28, 2018, at Candler Hospital in Savannah. But jurors found that the time it took for her to be sent from Liberty Regional Medical Center to Savannah for a higher level of care ultimately led to her passing.

Jeffrey Arnold of Arnold and Stafford was the lead trial attorney for the plaintiffs and thanked the jurors for “their selfless dedicated duty to the case, their patience and careful consideration of evidence.”

Arnold also praised partner Craig Stafford, also of Arnold and Stafford, and co-counsel Andrew Bowen. Bowen is a partner n the Savannah firm Bowen and Painter.

Arnold and Stafford each delivered the closing arguments to the jury.

“Together as the legal team we factually established a physician’s poor medical notes, lack of a sense of urgency and attention to detail, combined with deficient, untimely patient care led to the unnecessary tragic death of Eva Gregoire, who needlessly languished for 17 hours in a hospital bed before dying.

“Eva Gregoire deserved better, and the citizens of Liberty County deserve better medical care.”

The trial, which lasted two weeks in front of State Court Judge Jeff Osteen, was given to jurors Friday morning. They returned with their verdict a few hours later and apportioned the settlement among two physicians and LRMC. Gregoire’s attorneys and the LRMC had reached a settlement before the case went to trial.

Jurors began their deliberations at 9:45 a.m. Friday and issued their verdict and apportionment among the defendants at 2:15 p.m.

“Justice was served,” Stafford said. “Justice was served for Eva Gregoire.”

Gregoire was laid to rest in January 2019 in New Iberia, La. She and her family came to Liberty County in December 2018 to visit a relative, Sgt. Jeremiah Savoy, who was stationed at Fort Stewart and living in Midway. Savoy also had an imminent deployment to Poland.

On the night of December 26, Gregoire began to feel bad and was suffering from nausea, vomiting and constipation. Her family took her to the Liberty Regional Medical Center emergency department. A month prior to her trip to Liberty County, she had a procedure at a Louisiana hospital to treat a small bowel obstruction.

Gregoire was suffering from a distended abdomen and had an elevated heart rate, an increased respiratory rate and a low blood pressure. A CT scan, done without contrast in order to not injure her kidneys, did not show any perforation of the bowel.

The CT scan, however, could not rule out either an obstruction or a bowel ischemia, a condition where blood flow is reduced or restricted in a body part.

But because she was on a blood thinner, any kind of surgery on her abdomen could not have taken place at LRMC, which did not have the necessary blood products to counteract the blood thinner. Her attorneys also argued she needed to have a bed in an intensive care unit — a higher level of care than LRMC can provide — after the surgery.

Eventually, an order to transfer Gregoire to Candler was issued at 2:06 p.m. In the meantime, repeated blood work showed metabolic acidosis, meaning there was a higher level of acid and that could turn off functions of organs.

Gregoire was prescribed Levophed that morning around 9:30 a.m. Levophed is used to constrict blood flow and raise blood pressure.

But after repeated and increased doses, her blood pressure continued to fall.

A room was available at Candler Hospital, along with a surgery consultation with a general surgeon. But Gregoire did not leave LRMC until 4:15 p.m. As she waited, her vital signs remained unstable, at times appearing improved, but at other times showing “concerning levels of blood pressure, heart rate and respirations,” her attorneys said in their pre-trial brief.

Gregoire died in the ambulance to Candler, five minutes away from the hospital.

Jurors assigned 50% of the settlement against Dr. Calin Badea, the on-call hospitalist who eventually put in the order for Gregoire’s transfer. Gregoire’s attorneys argued that Dr. Badea failed to recognize the severity of Gregoire’s medical condition at the time of her admission to LRMC’s medical surgical floor and failed to get her transferred promptly to a hospital that could provide ICU care and treatment, including abdominal surgery.

Jurors also assigned a much lesser amount to Dr. Becky Coefield-Floyd, who examined Gregoire around 9 a.m. that morning and did not recommend surgery at the time. It was the only time Dr. Coefield-Floyd was asked to examine Gregoire.

Defense attorneys argued Gregoire did not exhibit having an “overwhelming abdominal sepsis” and that there was no reason for Dr. Coefield- Floyd to believe the patient needed surgery in the immediate future. The plaintiffs contended Gregoire’s signs and symptoms showed “an ongoing and acute and life threatening” abdominal condition and that any surgery necessitated a transfer to a higher-level care facility.

Jurors did not place any portion upon Dr. Adewumi Oguntunmibi, a Savannah physician with a practice in Hinesville, who arranged for a bed at Candler for Gregoire. Plaintiffs argued he should have ordered Gregoire to be intubated prior to and for the transfer to Candler. They also argued that by the time Dr. Oguntunmibi saw Gregoire at LRMC, “she was unstable, in shock, and suffering from severe acidosis.”

“It was a tough case,” Stafford said. “All the lawyers were well-seasoned trial lawyers and the jury did an excellent job.”

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