Atlanta—The Georgia Court of Appeals last week ruled a $45.8 million verdict should stand in a 2017 medical malpractice trial over the catastrophic brain damage a woman suffered days after childbirth.
The appellate court’s opinion, drafted by Presiding Judge Sara Doyle and published last Thursday, involved associated challenges to Fulton County State Court decisions in Trabue v. Atlanta Women’s Specialists, et al.
That trial, covered gavel-to-gavel by CVN, involved claims that negligence by Atlanta Women’s Specialists (AWS) obstetricians Drs. Stanley Angus and Rebecca Simonsen caused the collapse of Shannon Trabue following the 2009 birth of her child. Trabue went without oxygen for several minutes during the episode and suffered devastating brain damage.
Notably, Angus and AWS were the two named defendants in the trial, while Simonsen was not named as an individual defendant.
However, in reaching their verdict, jurors specifically found both Simonsen and Angus’s negligence led to Trabue’s brain damage.
Following the verdict, the defense argued the trial court erred in allowing evidence of Simonsen’s alleged negligence, which was imputed as part of the practice’s liability. The trial court rejected that argument but ordered a new trial limited to apportionment of damages in the case.
On appeal, the defense argued plaintiffs failed to properly plead a vicarious liability claim that would allow evidence of Simonsen’s negligence against AWS.
But Judge Doyle, in an opinion joined by Chief Judge Stephen Dillard and Judge Amanda Mercier, disagreed.
“The original and renewal complaints specifically identify Dr. Simonsen as an agent or employee of AWS, acting within the scope of her employment or agency, such that her acts and omissions are imputed to AWS,” Doyle wrote.
“Thus the trial court properly concluded that the complaints satisfy Georgia’s forgiving notice-pleading requirements with respect to the vicarious liability claim against AWS for the negligence of Dr. Simonsen.”
However, the court went on to hold that the trial court erred in ordering a new trial on apportionment of damages. A new trial was inappropriate, the appellate court reasoned, because only vicarious liability claims were asserted against AWS.
“‘Where a party’s liability is solely vicarious, that party and the actively-negligent tortfeasor are regarded as a single tortfeasor,’” the appellate court wrote, quoting PN Express v. Zegel, 697 SE2d 226 (2010).
“Here, because AWS’s liability to plaintiffs ‘was purely vicarious in nature for the acts of [Dr. Simonsen],’ apportionment is not proper between AWS and Dr. Angus.”
The court noted that, despite the defense’s arguments regarding apportionment between Angus and AWS, it actually sought to apportion fault between Angus and Simonsen, a non-party. But because the defense failed to the seek such an apportionment at least 120 days before trial, as required by OCGA 51-12-33(d) (2010) the appellate court found it time-barred.
The decision upholds the largest Georgia verdict CVN covered in 2017, a trial court win which led The Stone Law Group's William Stone to be named CVN Georgia's Plaintiff's Attorney of the Year.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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