A woman represented by State Bar of Georgia President Robin Frazer Clark won a $471,000 verdict to compensate for "excruciating, unrelenting pain" and medical expenses following hernia surgery.
A DeKalb County jury on Jan. 25 found in favor of plaintiff Sophia Mott, who claimed her doctor was responsible for placing a stitch in a nerve during the procedure.
For defense attorney Paul Weathington, who had won 50 consecutive verdicts before last June, this trial was his second straight trial defeat. He hadn’t previously lost since 2003.
Clark said Dr. Sidney Stapleton made a mistake following a long day of performing surgeries.
"He should not have entrapped a nerve in a hernia repair. When my client awoke from anesthesia in extreme, seething pain, that should have let him know he had injured a nerve," Clark said.
Instead of correcting the error, the doctor gave Mott pain medications and discharged her the next day, Clark said.
Weathington tried to persuade jurors that, while it’s true Stapleton entrapped a nerve during the surgery, he didn’t commit medical malpractice. In this kind of minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon operates through the wall of the abdomen and can’t see the nerves on the other side.
"Our position was that it was a known and acceptable complication of hernia surgery," Weathington said. "If he knew exactly where the nerve was, he would have avoided sewing up the nerve, but it’s unknowable."
Clark said her law firm work is "going gangbusters" at the same time she’s dedicating many hours to her state bar presidency. She said she hasn’t reduced her legal workload and that her presidency is comparable to juggling another big case.
"I’m probably a little more tired. I drink a bit more coffee these days. I have to stay highly caffeinated," Clark said. "I bring a coffee pot to trial, and I make and drink coffee all day. That’s how I handle it."
Weathington said he hopes to put this case behind him and start a new winning streak. The issue of a possible appeal is being considered by the insurance carrier, FPIC/The Doctor’s Company, which hasn’t made a decision.
"If you defend enough medical malpractice cases with sympathetic plaintiffs and excellent lawyers like Ms. Clark in challenging venues like DeKalb, one will lose some cases," Weathington said. "Trying medical malpractice cases is not for the faint of heart."
Mott, a high school English teacher, was 45 years old when she went to DeKalb Medical Center for laparoscopic spigelian hernia repair on Oct. 7, 2007, Clark said.
When the surgery ended, Mott had groin and genital area nerve pain, which she has endured for more than five years, Clark said.
Despite four surgeries that attempted to relieve the pain, Mott is still suffering, she takes morphine daily, and she had to take early retirement. Mott’s medical expenses were about $220,000.
Clark asked the jury for a range between $1 million and $4 million, and Weathington said the odd-numbered verdict amount indicated to him that jurors reached a compromise.
Weathington said his expert witness, former American Hernia Society President Dr. B. Todd Heniford, supported the argument that Stapleton couldn’t have known where Mott’s nerve was located. The expert witness for the plaintiff, Dr. Donald DeSantis of Virginia, testified about the proper standard of care when conducting hernia surgery, Clark said.
"The defense felt like we had a superior position on the medicine with our expert against their expert," Weathington said. "But the jury reached its decision, and I respect that."
Before trial, settlement discussions went nowhere, Clark said.
"They offered her nothing, not even good wishes," she said.
The jury deliberated for 4½ hours before reaching a verdict in a four-day trial before DeKalb County State Court Chief Judge Wayne Purdom.
The case is Mott v. Surgical Associates, No. 09A11508.