A Virginia jury awarded more than $3.4 million to the estate of a young man who died when complications arose during an effort to remove a surgical band around his stomach that had become displaced.
“It’s always interesting to try a case in somebody else’s backyard,” said one of the winning lawyers, William Atkins of Atlanta’s Edmond, Lindsay & Atkins.
“We were up against some of the most well-respected lawyers in Virginia,” said Atkins, who tried the case with partner Roderick Edmond. Brian Glass of Fairfax, Virginia’s Marks & Glass served as local counsel.
The jury cleared Dr. Nicholas Tapazoglou, represented by James Knaack of Fairfax’s Hancock, Daniel, Johnson & Nagle, of liability. But co-defendant Dr. Joyce Hairston, represented by Kristina Lewis of Fredericksburg’s Mitchell Law Group, was found to be at fault.
Neither defense lawyer responded to requests for comment on Friday.
The case involved the 2015 death of 28-year-old Vincent Minor at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Minor had recently moved from Douglasville, Georgia, to take a clerical job at a hospital.
“Ironically, his job was also at an lnova hospital,” Atkins said.
“He was a wonderful young man; he had a beautiful voice and led the singing at worship services at his church,” he said.
According to a synopsis of the case, in 2009 Minor had undergone gastric bypass surgery, which involves placing a “lap band” around the stomach to effectively reduce the amount of food it can hold.
In February 2015 Minor, who then weighed more than 300 pounds, went to the Fairfax hospital’s emergency room complaining of stomach pain, nausea and difficulty swallowing.
A CT scan revealed that the lap band had slipped and that Minor had a herniated stomach and “massively dilated esophagus.”
Minor was scheduled for surgery two days later.
As Minor was being anesthetized, he vomited what the plaintiff’s filings said was a “copious” amount of gastric content, inhaling some of the matter.
The surgery went forward but halted when Minor was taken to the intensive care unit for a bronchoscopy, which revealed gastric content in his trachea, airway and lungs.
Minor never came around; he stayed on a ventilator for more than a month before his parents had it disconnected.
In 2017, the administrator of Minor’s estate filed a medical-malpractice suit in Fairfax County Circuit Court against multiple defendants, including anesthesiologist Hairston and her practice; surgeon Tapazoglou and his practice; the attending nurse; and Inova Health Care Services.
By the time the case went to trial, only the doctors remained as defendants.
Atkins said there were “zero offers” from the remaining defendants to settle the case, and they had no interest in any discussions or mediations.
During a 2½ week trial before Judge Michael Devine, Atkins said the plaintiff’s case centered on two arguments.
“Our primary standard of care issue was that they should have emptied his stomach and esophagus before the surgery,” he said. “But our second argument was that they should have stopped the procedure once he started vomiting.”
The defense also had two arguments, he said.
“First, they said the standard of care did not require the placement of a nasogastric tube when inducing rapid-sequence induction,” he said, describing that as a type of anesthesia in which both a sedative and muscle relaxer are administered at the same time, rendering a patient unconscious within 30 to 90 seconds.
“They also said that this was such an unusual event and that everyone thought he should have recovered,” he said.
Each side provided testimony from multiple experts, he said.
The jury deliberated for 10 hours over two days before finding Hairston liable for negligence, awarding $3,401,451 dollars in damages, plus accrued interest on more than $400,000 in medical and funeral expenses.
In conversation with jurors afterward, Atkins said their decision “ultimately turned on the fact that the defense really undersold the event, and made it sound like it was no big deal. We had two experts who said it was one of the worst they’d seen.