In a medical malpractice trial, a defense attorney often faces a difficult hurdle convincing jurors to look beyond the tragic, emotionally-charged circumstances surrounding a case in order to evaluate a doctor's care. In Graham v. Hendrix, Downey & Cleveland’s W. Curtis Anderson delivered an opening that keyed a defense win in an 8-figure suit against Wellstar Health System and one of its physicians.
Justin Graham, 25, was hospitalized and ultimately died of liver failure after a 19-day stay for DUI at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in 2006. Graham suffered from symptoms of severe liver problems when he was booked into the center. His family claims Graham died because Dr. Clarence Hendrix, a physician who treated the jail’s inmates under a contract with Georgia healthcare giant Wellstar, improperly cared for Graham's liver disease and allowed him to remain incarcerated in the jail's general population as his condition worsened. Graham’s family ultimately sought nearly $30 million in the trial’s closings.
However, in his opening statement, Anderson highlighted the rounds of tests Hendrix performed while monitoring Graham’s liver function, including visiting Graham on the weekend to assess his condition. “This was not a gentleman, this was not an individual, this was not a system who forgot about anybody,” Anderson said. “This was a gentleman who was trying to care for his patients just like he would care for anyone else, and he did his best to provide him the care he thought that he needed.”
Anderson noted Graham had severely underreported his drinking to jailhouse staff, and the attorney walked jurors through test results that appeared to show Graham's slow recovery. As soon as blood work showed Graham was worsening, however, Anderson said Hendrix had him transferred to a hospital for more intensive treatment.
Anderson detailed hospital tests that showed the gravity of Graham’s liver disease and noted that only a liver transplant, for which Graham would not have qualified at the time, could have saved him. “Even when he got to the hospital, there’s no magic pill. There’s no other magic test. There’s no other magic formula that you can get when you have these conditions,” Anderson told jurors.
Anderson’s cogent opening laid the groundwork to clear Hendrix, Wellstar, and its administrator, David Howell, of liability in the case.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
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