Richard Mitchell, Mitchell & Shapiro, Atlanta. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)
The defendant, acute medical care center Landmark Hospital of Athens, passed on a $600,000 settlement offer prior to trial.
A Gwinnett County jury awarded $1.3 million to an elderly woman who developed serious bedsores while hospitalized for an extended period after a wreck.
Plaintiffs attorney Richard Mitchell said Athens’ 42-bed Landmark Hospital did not respond to an offer to settle the case for $600,000. Mitchell added that his client, Elizabeth Dickenson, is still dealing with the effects of the injury she suffered in 2015.
“The wound has closed, but it still bothers her; she still has to be careful not to sit in one position for a long time,” he said. “She was actually unable to attend the trial; she’s in New York now.”
Dickenson instead testified via video deposition.
“That was obviously a challenge, but we asked the potential jurors during voir dire whether it would bother them, and they said no,” said Mitchell, who tried the case with Mitchell & Shapiro associate Zack Greenamyre and Summerville Firm principal Darren Summerville.
Landmark is represented by Hall Booth Smith partner Terrell “Chip” Benton and associate Mary Battey. In an email, Benton said his team was evaluating their options regarding an appeal or other post-trial litigation.
According to Mitchell and court filings, Dickenson’s case began when she was in a serious wreck in 2015 and hospitalized at Grady Memorial Hospital with a lacerated colon, fractured ankle, respiratory failure and hemorrhagic shock.
Then 74 years old, Dickenson was morbidly obese and had a medical history that included diabetes, breast cancer, hypertension and hyperthyroidism, among other ailments.
She was intubated and placed on a ventilator while at Grady, which she remained on while there for about three weeks.
Dickenson was transferred from Grady to Landmark, which bills itself as an acute medical care facility for patients who are discharged from a hospital but still require a high level of care, so that she could be weaned from the ventilator.
While at Grady, she was noted to have a Stage II pressure ulcer on her buttock. On her second day at Landmark, a wound care nurse diagnosed her with a suspected deep tissue pressure wound on one buttock and Stage II on the other, Mitchell said.
Dickenson remained at Landmark for nearly two months, during which time she was supposed to be turned every two hours to allow the bedsores to heal. She was never weaned from the ventilator and was eventually returned to Grady following what a defense filing said were “bouts of vomiting and what appeared to be urine in her colostomy bag.”
When she returned to Grady, Dickenson was diagnosed with Stage IV deep tissue pressure wounds on each buttock, Mitchell said.
“Our view of the case was that Landmark didn’t follow the orders to turn her,” Mitchell said.
Records designated whether she was turned on her left, right or “other” were incomplete, “and there were huge gaps in the records,” he said. “Hour after hour they would say ‘other.’ Our theory was that for hours they relied on the turn bed,” a mattress that inflates and deflates at various points to turn a patient mechanically.
Her wounds got so bad that she required multiple surgical debridements to remove dead tissue, her filings said.
The defense portion of pretrial order said Dickenson received “regular wound care treatment and was regularly repositioned, despite the difficulties posed by her complex medical history, traumatic injuries from the motor vehicle accident and lack of mobility” while at Landmark.
In 2017, Dickenson and her husband sued Landmark in Gwinnett County State Court for negligence and loss of consortium.
Mitchell said the Dickensons were “very unhappy with the care she got, and she and her husband wanted to make sure this didn’t happen to anybody else.”
Mitchell said he didn’t make a presuit settlement demand but in January 2018 made a $600,000 offer, to which there was no counteroffer.
“As we got closer to mediation we felt our case had improved,” said Mitchell, whose side wanted $800,00 o $900,000 to settle, while the defense stuck at about $150,000 or $200,000.
During the pendency of the case, Dickenson’s husband passed away, and his executor assumed his place as co-plaintiff.
During a four-day trial before judge Shawn Bratton, Mitchell said the defense argument was “primarily that this happened at Grady, and they couldn’t tell how bad it was when she got to Landmark because it was a deep-tissue wound. They also said it was inevitable because of all the injuries and co-morbidities she had.”
Landmark also argued that it had just set up a new record-keeping system when Dickenson was admitted, and not all the staff knew how to properly log entries.
“Our response was that, up until she was discharged from Grady, her injury was stable and only progressed after she got there,” Mitchell said.
The key plaintiffs’ expert was primary care specialist David Seignious of Johns Island, South Carolina, while the defense put up testimony from Philadelphia vascular surgeon Aaron Blom.
During closing arguments, Mitchell said he suggested $2 million in damages, solely for Dickenson’s pain and suffering, and $50,000 for her husband’s claim.
On Thursday, he said the jury took about two hours to award $1.3 million to Dickenson and nothing for the loss of consortium.
In conversation afterward, he said jurors told him they’d been 11-to-1 for the plaintiff, and the majority of the deliberations involved deciding damages.
Landmark’s lawyers Benton and Battey were “fantastic to work with; they tried a great case and were very professional,” said Mitchell. “We were scared to death until the jury came back.”