William Stone delivers openings in a 2017 trial over catastrophic brain damage suffered by Shannon Trabue after childbirth. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a nearly $46 million verdict in the case.
Atlanta, GA— The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a $45 million-plus verdict for the catastrophic brain damage a woman suffered days after childbirth.
In an opinion by Justice Michael Boggs released September 28, the Court rejected arguments that plaintiffs did not properly plead vicarious liability claims against Atlanta Women's Specialists for the conduct of one of its physicians who treated Shannon Trabue before an August 2009 heart attack that left her with lifelong brain damage. That physician, Dr. Rebecca Simonsen, was not a named defendant at trial, while her employer at the time, Atlanta Women's Specialists, and her colleague in the practice, Dr. Stanley Angus, were specifically named.
“Nothing in the Civil Practice Act required Plaintiffs to name Dr. Simonsen as a defendant in order to seek recovery from Dr. Simonsen’s employer for her negligence based on a theory of vicarious liability,” the Court wrote
The court noted that the complaint specifically alleged negligence by Angus and Atlanta Women’s Specialists, or AWS, but did not contain a separate count against Simonsen individually.
“It simply is not and never has been required that a complaint seek to hold liable each negligent nonparty employee of a corporate defendant in order to hold the corporation liable for the negligence of its nonparty employees,” Justice Boggs wrote.
In a 2017 trial covered gavel-to-gavel by CVN, a Fulton County State Court jury awarded $45.8 million to Trabue and her family. Trabue’s attorneys had argued Trabue’s heart attack was caused by unchecked blood pressure spikes stemming from her preeclampsia, combined with a pulmonary edema, or fluid in her lungs, that Simonsen and Angus failed to properly treat.
On appeal, Angus argued that, beyond the vicarious liability issue, the trial court erred in failing to apportion fault between him and Atlanta Women’s Specialists based on his and Simonsen’s percentage of responsibility.
However, the Court rejected that contention, concluding Angus failed to comply with notice provisions of the state’s apportionment statute, O.C.G.A. 51-12-33(d). That section, the Court said, requires a defendant give notice at least 120 days prior to the date of trial that a nonparty was wholly or partially at fault in order to seek apportionment.
The Court reasoned the notice requirement made sense procedurally. “In the absence of such a requirement,” Justice Boggs wrote, “a defendant could wait until the evidence is closed and the trial almost over to suddenly demand that the trial court require the jury to assess the percentages of fault of any number of people whose names came up briefly in the testimony or appeared in an exhibit that has been admitted and to apportion any damages award based on their fault.”
However, although he concurred with the Court’s opinion on vicarious liability, Justice Charles Bethel dissented on its conclusion regarding apportionment, relying on the fact that AWS was Simonsen’s employer. “I see no basis in the statute’s text for determining that the provision related to apportionment with nonparties — subsection (d)(1) — prevents apportionment between Dr. Angus and AWS,” Justice Bethel wrote.
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