Georgia Doctor, Clinic Seek New Trial After $15 Million Wrongful Death Verdict

A Georgia doctor and urology clinic face a $15 million jury verdict in a wrongful death case stemming from a 2016 surgery. Now, they’re seeking to convince the Georgia Court of Appeals to set aside the verdict, calling it “excessive.”

Group of surgeons operating

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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Published on May 23, 2024

Group of surgeons operating

The Facts of the Case

The case focuses on the death of an 80-year-old patient in November 2016, following the man’s prostate surgery. The man visited Coliseum Northside Hospital in November 2016 for a transurethral resection of the prostate.

During the procedure, known as a TURP, a device called a resectoscope is inserted into the urethra. The surgeon uses the resectoscope to spot and trim any prostate tissue that is blocking the urethra. The goal is to treat urinary issues caused by an enlarged prostate.

According to court records, during the procedure, the defendant's urologist perforated the patient’s bladder, causing irrigation fluids and urine to enter the abdominal cavity. The surgeon placed a drainage tube in the patient’s abdomen to remove the fluids but did not try to repair the perforation, instead sending the patient to the intensive care unit - behavior that demonstrates negligence, according to the patient’s surviving spouse.

The $15 Million Verdict and Subsequent Appeal

In March 2023, a jury in Bibb County, Georgia awarded a total of $15 million in damages to the deceased patient’s surviving wife. The award included $2.5 million for pain and suffering and $12.5 million for the full value of the decedent’s remaining life.

On appeal, attorney Page Powell Jr., representing the doctor and clinic, argued that neither the pain and suffering amount nor the amount for the value of the decedent’s remaining life were proper. The argument focused on the deceased’s age at death and the question of pain and suffering.

Powell sought to establish that the decedent wasn’t sufficiently conscious in the moments before death to experience conscious pain and suffering, noting that the patient was sedated and did not respond to voices or other stimuli in the 32 hours between surgery and his death.

Attorney James ‘Jay’ Sadd, representing the decedent’s wife, argued to the contrary. Sadd noted that the patient was sedated because he was in pain from swelling, abdominal distension, and multiple tubes inserted at various points in his body.

It’s “really hard to believe” the defense would argue that sedation meant the decedent suffered no pain when “the sedation was for pain,” Sadd added. He noted that the trial court judge agreed that evidence of pain and suffering was present.

Arguments on appeal also asserted that $12.5 million is an excessive award for the remaining life of “an 80-year-old gentleman with multiple health problems.” Here, Powell noted that no testimony was entered at trial as to the patient’s likely life expectancy.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys included Jay Sadd, Daniel M. Epstein, and C. Wilson DuBose. For the defendants, counsel included R. Page Powell Jr., Alexander C. Vey, Emmitte H. Griggs, and David N. Nelson.

Takeaways for Attorneys

Attorney Sadd noted that the plaintiff’s team attempted to settle the case but was unable to reach an agreement with the defense. Expert testimony and medical records, however, allowed the plaintiffs to illustrate the patient’s condition between exiting surgery and his death over a day later - including the likelihood that he experienced pain and suffering during this period.

In this case, the trial judge not only found evidence of conscious pain and suffering but held a hearing on the specific question. Entering an appeal with a strong trial court evidentiary record and findings from a hearing on a specific question places the plaintiffs in a strong position on the question of pain and suffering.

Yet the bulk of the verdict - $12.5 million - was awarded on the basis of the decedent’s remaining life, a question on which the record is more sparse. Even if the defendants lose their appeal on the pain and suffering question, they may succeed in significantly reducing the total verdict if they can demonstrate that $12.5 million is truly excessive in this case.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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