Plaintiff Sandra Williams was awarded $26 million in damages after it was determined St. Francis Hospital was liable for the brain damage that she suffered following surgery. This medical malpractice claim award is said to be among the largest in the history of Georgia. As part of an agreement between the parties, there will be no appeal of the verdict, where the hospital will pay $25 million and a separate $1 million is the responsibility of a separate doctor who also treated Williams.
Initially, the surgery was believed to have been successful until Williams wound up in the intensive care unit several days later with swelling in her neck region and an inability to swallow. She was admitted to the hospital at approximately 5:30 a.m., yet Dr. Erik Westerlund did not see her until around noon that day, which was a violation of the requirement that the doctor check on the patient within a two-hour window.
Williams was determined to have hematoma which was putting significant pressure on her airway. Dr. Westerlund's six hour lapse in time before beginning treatment was viewed as unacceptable by the jury. This lapse was contrary to the facility protocol, and in the meantime Williams bled internally. This led to damage in the brain that created a loss of vision, balance and has required her to remain in a wheelchair.
Prior to the surgery, Williams was said to be very active and enjoyed running and singing in the church choir. The jury was shown a video of Williams singing at a time prior to her surgery, which was believed to have really connected her with the members of the jury.
During the trial, Westerlund admitted no fault in how his care was provided, which was supported by a colleague who testified. The defense accused this colleague of being untruthful; reporting that he testified in a similar case prior where he stated that in cases of a hematoma the patient should be immediately returned for treatment. The jury apparently felt that this was a situation of one doctor attempting to protect another, as they returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Another defendant, Dr. Christopher Tidwell, a pulmonologist who was cleared of any liability in the case. Tidwell was making rounds in the hospital at the time when he was summoned to the intensive care unit to assist with Williams, who was struggling to breathe. He performed emergency medical care on Williams at that time. The jury found that Tidwell had performed as well as could be expected based on the difficult circumstances. A plaintiff attorney felt the verdict was a message to the hospital that they need to improve. He felt that the situation could have been prevented. Williams is looking forward to moving on with her life now.