L-R Thomas Carlock and Eric Frisch.
Partners Thomas Carlock (left) and Eric Frisch and Broderick Harrell (not pictured) represented the surgeon (John Disney/Daily Report)

VIDEO: Doctor in WellStar Malpractice Suit: I Bear No Responsibility for My Patient’s Death (Courtesy Courtroom View Network)

A neurosurgeon sued for medical malpractice in the 2004 death of a patient was cleared of liability by a Fulton County jury, which turned aside claims that he failed to act or order diagnostic tests quickly enough when complications developed in the hours following a cervical spinal-fusion surgery.

During pretrial motions, the defense managed to keep the jury from hearing evidence that Dr. Omar Jimenez’s hospital privileges were suspended less than two years after the death of 53-year-old Mark Kravitz and that Jimenez had been subject to eight other malpractice suits in Georgia and Nebraska before and after the incident, according to attorneys on both sides of the case.

Jimenez is represented by Carlock Copeland & Stair partners Tom Carlock, Broderick Harrell and Eric Frisch. Citing the possibility of an appeal, Frisch declined to go into much detail concerning the evidence and allegations against his client. But he said the involvement of WellStar Cobb Hospital—a co-defendant until it settled out of the case—was made known to the jury.

“The plaintiffs acknowledged that the nurses at WellStar were responsible,” said Frisch. But, he said, the plaintiff’s side contended “that Dr. Jimenez should have done something, whether it was get a consultation, get an imaging study—something.”

Jed Manton, who with fellow Harris Penn Lowry partner Darren Penn represented the widow, Chompok Kravitz, at trial, said they were considering their options and declined to discuss the case at length.

Manton confirmed that the plaintiff’s team had told the jury during opening statements that WellStar had been in the case and that those claims had been resolved.

The case involved the death of Mark Kravitz, who died after Jimenez performed a discectomy and fusion on two cervical vertebrae in April 2004 to relieve herniated discs. The surgery was successful, but afterward Kravitz’s neck began to swell. A couple of hours later, Jimenez ordered that an ice pack be placed on Kravitz’s neck, and shortly thereafter Kravitz was transferred to the intensive care unit.

Four hours after the surgery, the ICU nurses reported that Kravitz’s neck circumference had increased by one centimeter within 30 minutes, according to court filings. Jimenez prescribed an anti-nausea drug, and Kravitz seemed to be resting comfortably. Several hours later, he began complaining of nausea and neck pain and was given an anti-inflammatory drug. Fifteen minutes later, Kravitz called a nurse, who noted that he was in distress and short of breath.

Kravitz was placed on oxygen but went into respiratory arrest and could not be resuscitated.

In 2006, lawyers William Cromwell and Henry Hibbert sued on behalf of Chompok Kravitz in Fulton County State Court. The defendants were Jimenez and his employer, Georgia Spine and Brain, as well as WellStar Health Systems.

WellStar settled in 2007 for a confidential sum, Manton said. The hospital’s attorney, Hall Booth Smith partner John Hall, was unavailable for comment.

Manton said Cromwell and Hibbert, along with Roswell neurosurgeon/attorney Lawrence Schlachter, worked the case and then brought the Harris Penn lawyers in to try it.

Early in the case, the plaintiff offered to settle for the limit of Jimenez’s $1 million medical malpractice insurance policy, Manton said, but there were no other settlement discussions or mediation.

Jury selection began on Thursday, Oct. 30, and the trial commenced on Nov. 3 before Fulton County Sate Court Judge John Mather.

According to Frisch, the plaintiff’s experts included two neurosurgeons, Regis Haid from Atlanta and Gary Danielson from Texas, and Decatur pulmonologist Thomas Demarini.

The defense called pulmonologist David Westerman from Atlanta’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and neurosurgeon Richard Berkman from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Frisch said.

While there was some dispute over the timeline of events leading up to Kravitz’s death, Frish said, the key issue was what Jimenez should have done. A defense account noted that Kravitz’s lapse into respiratory arrest occurred more than five hours after Jimenez had last been contacted by nurses concerning the patient’s condition.

Manton said that even a defense expert had admitted that Kravitz had died as a result of medical malpractice and that his death was preventable.

After a three-day trial, Frisch said the jury took about two-and-a-half hours to find for the defense. His team did not speak to any members of the panel, he said.

Manton said he and Penn spoke to several jurors.

“The overall consensus was that they were leaning for the doctor even before the evidence started, and we were never able to overcome that,” Manton said. “We found that very interesting.”

Manton said he had been very impressed with Mather and his staff’s conduct of the trial, also hailing the defense counsel.

“Tom Carlock’s reputation as one of the state’s top defense attorneys is well-known and well-deserved,” he said. “They tried an excellent case.”

The case is Kravitz v. Jimenez, No. 06VS096463.