Decatur, GA—Jurors Monday cleared one doctor but hit another with a $6 million verdict after finding him solely responsible for the death of a patient suffering from bowel obstruction. Scoggins v. Smith, et al., 15A56505E4.
DeKalb County State Court jurors found Dr. Daniel Moldoveanu liable for the January 2014 death of Ann Scoggins, 72. Scoggins suffered a fatal heart attack during a bout of vomiting while being treated by Moldoveanu for a bowel obstruction at Athens Regional hospital.
The jury needed less than three hours to render its verdict, which also cleared emergency room physician, Dr. Elizabeth Smith of fault for Scoggins’ death. Smith had seen Scoggins at St. Mary’s Medical Center a day before her admission to Athens Regional.
Monday’s award includes $5.5 million for the full value of Scoggins’ life and $500,000 to Scoggins’ estate for her expenses, and pain and suffering.
During Friday’s closing arguments, the Bird Law Group’s William Bird, representing Scoggins’ husband, John, suggested the jury award damages somewhere between $3 million and $8 million.
Scoggins developed the bowel obstruction after taking prescription painkillers following a January 2014 knee replacement surgery. She had originally seen Smith in the ER, complaining of pain and nausea, but an X-ray Smith ordered showed no signs of obstruction. After admission to Athens Regional, Moldoveanu ordered oral laxatives and an enema following abnormal blood test results and imaging that revealed an obstruction was likely. However, Scoggins aspirated during a round of vomiting, leading to her heart attack.
John Scoggins claims the doctors failed to timely diagnose and properly treat his wife’s obstruction, and the five-day trial focused on when his wife developed the obstruction and whether treatment was appropriate.
At the ER, Smith had diagnosed Scoggins with painkiller-induced constipation, based on her symptoms and a single abdominal X-ray, taken with Scoggins lying on her back. Although X-ray showed no signs of obstruction, John Scoggins’ attorney, Conley Griggs & Partin’s Cale Conley, argued Friday that a single image would not necessarily reveal such a blockage.
Instead, Conley contended the weight of expert testimony proved Smith should have ordered a CT scan, or at least multiple X-rays while Scoggins stood, to look for an obstruction. “If all of the other doctors, other than Dr. Smith and her expert, are using multiple X-rays to diagnose partial bowel obstruction, we submit that that is the standard of care,” Conley said.
Smith’s attorney, Peters & Monyak’s Robert Monyak, countered that the chances of bowel obstruction under the circumstances were low, and the ER doctor properly treated Scoggins based on available medical evidence. “It is not malpractice to run with the obvious diagnosis; it’s not. It’s not malpractice to consider the complete picture. It’s not malpractice to follow where the evidence leads you, away from obstruction. None of that is unreasonable,” Monyak said. “That’s what happens every day. Physicians make judgments.”
In his closing, Moldoveanu’s attorney, Forrester & Brim’s James Brim, III, argued his client acted reasonably in ordering an enema to conservatively treat the obstruction. Brim claimed the ultimately fatal bout of vomiting was a rare complication that was not typically accounted for. “His plan of care was the standard plan of care that is known to be reasonable,” Brim said. “It has stood the test of time.”
But, Conley contended Moldoveanu should have ordered a gastronasal tube inserted to decompress Scoggins' stomach, and he argued Moldoveanu made a fatal error in ordering an oral laxative for his patient.
Conley noted Moldoveanu had admitted that he intended to prohibit Scoggins from taking medicine by mouth, and he criticizied the doctor’s claim that the oral medication did not lead to her death. “If he had clicked the right box, she doesn’t get 10 ounces of thick medicine, and then vomit… an hour later. Coincidence?” Conley asked. “You’re not required to check your common sense when you walk through that door.”
CVN recorded the trial and will provide on-demand gavel-to-gavel video as soon as possible after the verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
John Scoggins is represented by the Bird Law Group’s William Bird and Conley Griggs & Partin’s Cale Conley. .
Dr. Elizabeth Smith and Athens-Clarke Emergency Specialists are represented by Peters & Monyak’s Robert Monyak.
Dr. Daniel Moldoveanu and Athens Regional Specialty Services Inc. are represented by Forrester & Brim’s James Brim, III.
CVN will provide gavel-to-gavel video of the trial, on demand, as soon as possible after the verdict.
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