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Defense Verdict In Med Mal Case Seeking $15 Million

Defense prevails in med mal case brought by family of brain damaged woman.

A jury returned a defense verdict in an emotionally-charged med mal case in which the husband of a Georgia woman left severely brain damaged due to complications during a surgical procedure sought at least $15 million. "There have been a number of substantial plaintiffs' verdicts over the past few years, and I've heard it said that, when somebody goes into a hospital and comes out with substantial injuries, it's going to cost millions," said lead defense lawyer R. Page Powell. "This verdict proves that, despite the underlying tragic outcome this plaintiff suffered, a jury can still focus on the facts and details of the case, and decide on the evidence." Powell, who tried the case with Huff, Powell & Bailey partner L. Evan Cline, said that the lowest amount the plaintiffs sought to settle the case prior to trial was for the $7 million limit of the defendants' combined insurance coverage. Plaintiffs lawyer Jack Slover, who tried the case with Slover, Prieto, Marigliano & Holbert partner Jonathan Marigliano, said they are considering possible appeal options, but that the case may not offer many. "We're looking at it," said Slover. "It was clean case; Judge [Jay] Roth did a good job, the defense did a good job. Over the three years of the case, we had worked out all the issues from an evidentiary standpoint, so there are no big issues there." "It's still real emotional for me," said Slover the day after the verdict was read. "I was a [civil] defense lawyer for many years, and I've also tried murder and death-penalty cases in my career. I have to say this is one of the more traumatic and difficult cases I've ever tried. We got very close to this family." According to the attorneys and case filings, Esmeralda Palacios was a 39-year-old mother of twins with a history of asthma and lung problems when she underwent a lung biopsy at Northside Hospital in March 2012. Palacios was anesthetized, and a Northside staffer attempted to place a breathing tube down her throat and into her lungs. There was some difficulty, and Palacios' blood oxygen levels began to fall. When anesthesiologist Laura Kaufman squeezed the oxygen bag on Palacios' oxygen mask, said Powell, she felt resistance and called for assistance from another anesthesiologist, Donald Silverman. After multiple efforts, the doctors were able to get the tube inserted, but Palacio's oxygen saturation levels continued to plummet, and there was no indication that she was breathing for several minutes as the doctors and other hospital staff worked feverishly to clear her airway. Palacios went into cardiac arrest, and as a result of the loss of oxygen, she suffered brain damage that left her in what Powell said was a vegetative or near-vegetative state. In May 2013, Slover and Marigliano filed suit on behalf of Palacios' husband, Raul Palacios, and her co-conservator in Fulton County State Court, naming Kaufman, Silverman and Northside Anesthesiology Consultants as defendants. There were never any substantive settlement discussions, Powell said. Prior to a mediation earlier this month, the plaintiffs had sought the defendants' policy limits--$3 million for each doctor and $1 million for the anesthesiology practice--and there was "little movement during mediation," Powell said. "Given the severity of her injuries, it was difficult for the plaintiffs to consider anything other than a multimillion-dollar settlement, which I understand," said Powell. "It was kind of an all-or-nothing case; we just couldn't consider anything close to what they wanted. It was just a case that needed to go to trial." The trial began Jan. 11 before Roth, with interruptions for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and a half-day weather-related timeout. Powell said there was some argument as to whether Kaufman had taken adequate precautions for the likelihood that Palacios might experience a bronchospasm, or asthma attack, during the procedure. But the "key to the case" involved whether the doctors had been quick enough to administer epinephrine when Palacios began going into cardiac arrest, Powell said. The main plaintiffs' witness was Tampa anesthesiologist Hans Schweiger, Powell said, while defense experts included anesthesiologists Eric Fishman with WellStar Health System and Stephanie Roundtree with the DeKalb Medical Center. But the main defense witnesses were the defendant doctors themselves, said Powell, who were adamant that their preparation and conduct of the procedure was proper. "We focused on liability; we never contested damages, never contested that her injuries were by the lack of oxygen," he said. "We argued standard of care and causation--whether, even if had given the epinephrine five minutes earlier, would it have prevented brain injury? We argued that, given the severity [of the blockage]--their own expert called it an '11' on a 1-to-10 scale of severity--it wouldn't have made a difference." During closing arguments, Powell said the plaintiffs' lawyers asked for a range of damages based on various life expectancies and whether Palacios remained in Georgia or was moved back to California with family. "By my estimate, the lowest figure would have been around $15 million, and the highest would have exceeded $30 million," he said. The trial ended on Jan. 20, and the jury considered the evidence for about 12 hours over the ensuing days before returning a defense verdict on Monday, Jan. 25. Originally posted by Greg Land on Daily Report. Med Mal Case - Ball & Bonholtzer Trial Attorney - Los Angeles    

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