Columbus, GA—Jurors Tuesday heard openings on whether medical negligence or unavoidable complications caused the lifelong brain damage a Georgia woman suffered after respiratory failure, as trial began against the hospital staff and pulmonologist who treated her. Williams v. Tidwell, et al., SC14CV882.
Sandra Williams suffered catastrophic brain damage in October 2012 while being treated at Columbus’ St. Francis Hospital for complications stemming from a neck surgery days earlier. Williams’ attorney, the Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell, contends pulmonologist Dr. Charles Tidwell and hospital staff, including on-call physician Dr. Erik Westerlund, failed to properly treat Williams’ post-op neck hematoma, or blood clot, which compressed her trachea and closed off her airway.
The respiratory failure Williams suffered has left her blind and unable to care for herself. Bell told jurors Tuesday she will suffer more than $5.5 million in economic damages alone.
During Tuesday’s opening statements, Bell detailed Williams’ visit to the hospital, where he said critical delays in imaging and examination culminated in a botched intubation that starved her of oxygen.
Bell told jurors hospital nurses failed to promptly perform required tests that would have shown Williams’ tracheal compression Westerlund took more than six hours to see Williams after her ICU admission, and he failed to timely analyze X-rays of her condition.
A prompt arrival and examination, Bell said, would have shown Williams needed to be sent to the hospital’s operating suite for intubation under anesthesia in time to prevent her respiratory collapse. “By the time [Westerlund] showed up, there was a mess,” Bell said. “He had put Sandy at risk, and Sandy’s paying the price.”
When Tidwell saw Williams, Bell said, she was already in critical condition because of the hospital’s negligence. However, Bell told jurors Tidwell failed to take Williams’ condition into account to properly intubate her, and his bedside sedation of Williams actually aggravated her respiratory distress. “He was handed a box of snakes, basically, by all the bad choices and negligence of the hospital’s nurses and Dr. Westerlund,” Bell said. “But, he’s trained in how to handle them. And Dr. Tidwell, working with Dr. Westerlund, did not do this intubation the way they should have.”
But Tidwell argues he provided appropriate treatment given the critical condition Williams was in when he saw her. “If he was handed a box of snakes,” Weathington McGrew’s Paul Weathington told jurors, “I will show you he did his very best to deal with the situation.”
Weathington told jurors Tidwell was called by hospital nurses to examine Williams in the ICU when she was showing signs of respiratory distress, and he decided to intubate at her bedside because of the imminent threat her airway's collapse. Weathington said waiting for other equipment or intubation in the operating room would likely have proven fatal. “As bad as things are for Ms. Williams, she is alive, and she is alive in part because Dr. Tidwell acted, because Dr. Westerlund did what he did… and they were able to save her.”
The hospital contends that its staff monitored Williams and that an earlier intubation was not appropriate given Williams’ condition at the time. During Tuesday’s openings, Bendin Sumrall & Ladner’s Roger Sumrall walked jurors through records showing nurses reported Williams showed no signs of respiratory distress for several hours following admission. Sumrall added Westerlund oversaw Williams' care and took appropriate action when her condition worsened. “What Dr. Westerlund did was place this patient in a situation where there would be constant eyes on her, where any sign of respiratory distress would be immediately noted,” Sumrall said. “He was immediately available, and when they did note some signs of respiratory distress he was at the bedside in minutes.”
Trial is expected to last about two weeks. CVN is recording the trial and will provide gavel-to-gavel coverage, on demand, as soon as possible after the verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
The Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell represents Sandra Williams.
Weathington McGrew’s Paul Weathington and Tracy Baker represent Christopher Tidwell.
Bendin Sumrall & Ladner’s Roger Sumrall represents St. Francis Hospital.
CVN will provide gavel-to-gavel coverage, on demand, as soon as possible after the verdict.
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