Wellstar Administrator, Doctor Prevail at Trial Over Former Jail Inmate's Fatal Liver Failure

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jun 30, 2017 3:19:50 PM


W. Curtis Anderson delivers his closing argument for the defense at trial over the death of Justin Graham. Jurors found for the defendants in the wrongful death suit. 

Marietta, GA—Jurors last week cleared a Wellstar Health Services administrator and a jailhouse physician of responsibility for the liver failure death of a former jail inmate. Graham v. Hendrix, et al.

Cobb County State Court jurors deliberated for less than three hours last Friday before concluding Dr. Clarence Hendrix, a physician at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, and David Howell, the administrator in charge of Wellstar’s contract to provide health services for the facility, were not liable for the 2006 death of Justin Graham.  

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Graham, 25, died from liver failure about a month after a stint at the detention center for a DUI arrest. During his incarceration, Graham was treated by Hendrix as part of Wellstar’s contract with the county’s sheriff’s department. After 19 days at the facility, Graham was transferred to a hospital where he ultimately died. Graham’s family claims Hendrix failed to properly treat Graham’s liver problems, which included tell-tale symptoms of worsening jaundice and rising bilirubin counts.

During last Thursday’s closing arguments, The Austin Law Group’s Laura Austin, representing the plaintiffs, requested $29.7 million for Graham’s death.

The two-week trial centered on whether Hendrix’s treatment met medical standards and whether Graham could have been saved. During last Thursday’s closing arguments, Austin led jurors through the timeline of Graham’s stay in the jail, which she said included delays in test results, lax monitoring, and Graham’s release from the infirmary into the general population, despite a condition that was growing increasingly grave. Austin told jurors the negligence extended beyond Hendrix’s treatment to a systemic breakdown of healthcare at the facility. “[The defendants] are responsible for properly and timely assessing [Graham's] care communicating about his care, doing all things that are reasonable and necessary to promote life, and they did not,” Austin said. “The system of doing and delivering healthcare within the jail was broken.”

Austin argued expert testimony proved Graham could have been saved if he had received appropriate medical care at the jail. “If they followed the rules, if they act responsibly, there [would] be no harm,” Austin said. “The experts, all of them, said this boy would have lived had he been given timely and proper intervention, with fluids, nutrition, anti-inflammatories, removal of alcohol. He needed that. He needed to be monitored closely.”

However, the defense noted Wellstar was not responsible for Graham’s jailhouse nursing care, and it maintained Hendrix followed appropriate medical treatment protocol during Graham's incarceration. During Thursday’s closing arguments, Downey & Cleveland’s W. Curtis Anderson noted Graham had drastically underreported his drinking history and Hendrix provided appropriate treatment with the information he had. Anderson reminded jurors a defense expert who had practiced in a jail setting believed Hendrix met the medical standard. “Dr. Hendrix followed Mr. Graham, he saw that the liver enzymes initially were elevated, he took action,” Anderson said, detailing Hendrix’s treatment regimen. “He did not forget about him.”

Anderson contended Graham was in such severe liver failure by the time he reached the hospital he would have died regardless of the care he received at the jail. Anderson noted evidence Graham had late-stage cirrhosis and claimed Graham's drinking history did not qualify him for a liver transplant, the only treatment that could have saved him. “It is sad, but it is a reality,” Anderson said. “And, it is not something that was caused by Dr. Hendrix, David Howell, or any of the other healthcare providers in this case.”

CVN recorded the trial and will provide video, on demand, as soon as possible.

Email Arlin Crisco at

Related Information

The plaintiffs are represented by The Austin Law Group’s Laura Austin.

The defendants are represented by Downey & Cleveland’s W. Curtis Anderson.

CVN is recording the trial and will provide video as soon as possible.

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Topics: Medical Malpractice, Georgia, Graham v. Hendrix