Doctor Cleared in Med Mal Trial Over Child's Devastating Pancreatitis

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jun 21, 2023 4:05:17 PM


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Atlanta, GA— Jurors cleared a Georgia physician earlier this month of liability for the devastating complications a child suffered as a result of severe pancreatitis. Cline v. Patel, 20EV000104. 

The Fulton County (Georgia) State Court jury deliberated roughly five hours before concluding Dr. Nirav Patel was not responsible for the necrotizing pancreatitis one of his pediatric patients suffered in 2018.  Necrotizing pancreatitis is a severe complication of an inflamed pancreas, in which the organ’s tissue dies, leading to a host of potentially life-threatening complications. 

The child, who was 9 years old at the time, was admitted to Wellstar Paulding Hospital on February 6, 2018 complaining of severe abdominal pain and distension, among other symptoms. Medical personnel there suspected he suffered from constipation. Later that evening, he was transferred to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Scottish Rite Hospital, where Patel, a gastroenterologist and the child’s attending physician, oversaw his care. Late the following day, the child went into hypovolemic shock, in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and ultimately diagnosed with acute pancreatitis that progressed to a necrotizing form of the condition. The child suffered a cascade of complications, requiring a four-month hospital stay, multiple surgeries, and other treatment, which totaled more than $2.5 million in past medical expenses alone. 

Neither Wellstar Paulding nor Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta were defendants at trial. 

The four-day trial turned on whether Patel had properly monitored and treated the child when he oversaw his care in the hours before he went into shock. In closings, the child’s parents’ attorney, Shiver Hamilton Campbell’s Scott Campbell, walked jurors through a timeline of what he characterized as the child’s progressively worsening condition, including increasingly worrying heart rate and breathing and repeated vomiting. Campbell said the standard of care required Patel to order tests and other intervention that could have diagnosed and treated the child’s pancreatitis earlier, preventing the condition from progressing. 

“We are not asking you to say, ‘Should Dr. Patel have immediately diagnosed pancreatitis?’” Campbell told jurors. “But the totality here requires you to think ‘This might be more than just a backed-up kid.’”

But the defense contends Patel followed appropriate protocol in treating the child under the belief that he suffered from extreme constipation. During his closing, Huff Powell Bailey’s Michael Frankson said the child’s blood pressure, breathing, and other signs remained normal under Patel’s care. And Frankson added that evidence showed all of the child’s symptoms before and during Patel’s care, while non-specific, were consistent with constipation. 

“A reasonable provider takes that history and reasonably, under these circumstances, says ‘That’s constipation.’” Frankson said, noting Wellstar personnel’s own belief that the child was constipated. “The only providers who actually laid hands on [the child] all thought constipation."

In an email to CVN after the verdict, Frankson said he believed evidence of the child’s relatively non-specific symptoms, as well as his decreasing pain levels, played a key role in the jury’s decision. 

“That took the clinical picture away from one that was 'classic' for pancreatitis, as suggested early on in the trial, and allowed the jury to appreciate that Dr. Patel was working with a reasonable diagnosis until [the child's] clinical picture deteriorated,” Frankson said, adding, “It was a hard-fought case against great attorneys.”

Campbell told CVN in an email after the verdict that he was disappointed in the jury’s decision, but felt privileged to have represented the child and his family. “Fighting for those who have been seriously injured can be a challenging profession and accepting a defense verdict a difficult task,” Campbell said.  “Though the challenges we face as lawyers, even in defeat, pale in comparison to the challenges our clients face daily and should not deter lawyers from bringing meritorious cases to trial, even when victory is far from guaranteed.”

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Topics: Medical Malpractice, Georgia, healthcare, Cline, et al. v. Patel, et al.