L-R Jennifer Kurle, Steven Justus, Michael Perez and Lyle Warshauer. (John Disney)
A Cobb County jury awarded more than $3.2 million to the husband of a woman who went into cardiac arrest after medical staff administered multiple narcotics for injuries suffered in a car wreck.
Lorrie McCombs was resuscitated but lived for three months in a persistent vegetative state until she died in 2012 at age 49.
Lead plaintiffs attorney Jennifer Kurle of Decatur’s KurleLaw said McCombs’ painful injuries warranted the three strong opioids.
“There was not a single allegation that there was too much medication,” said Kurle. “The allegation was that they were not properly monitoring her, given the extent of the medication.”
Kurle’s associate, Steven Justus, and Warshauer Law Group partner Michael Perez assisted her at trial. She said Lyle Warshauer also provided extensive behind-the-scenes support.
“We are disappointed in the jury verdict,” said hall via email. “We believe there is very good grounds on causation issues to appeal and plan to file a motion for new trial. “
According to Kurle and court filings McCombs, a home health assistant, was on her way to care for a patient on May 17, 2012, when she was involved in a head-on collision in Cherokee County.
She was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital with injuries including seven broken ribs, a fractured hip and ankle, injury to her liver and other internal bruising.
Medical staff treated her with pump-administered morphine and prescribed oral hydrocodone.
Two days later Jinu Kamdar, a physician with Wellstar’s surgical team, prescribed a third opioid, OxyContin.
Later that day, a physical therapist told the attending nurse, Kimberly Minchey, that McCombs was “lethargic” and difficult to arouse, according to the plaintiffs’ portion of the pretrial order.
Less than two hours later, it said, Minchey found McCombs in full cardiac and respiratory arrest and sounded a “code blue” to launch resuscitative efforts.
The emergency response team resuscitated McCombs, but she suffered severe anoxic brain injury and remained unresponsive until she died in August 2012.
In 2014, McCombs’ husband and estate administrator, Dennis McCombs, sued Kennestone, Wellstar, Minchey and Kamdar along with the physical therapist in Cobb County State Court.
But Kurle said Dennis McCombs later dismissed the therapist as a defendant, once it became clear she had raised the alarm as to Lorrie McCombs’ condition.
During “very amicable” discovery proceedings, Kurle said the defense asked that the nurse and doctor be dismissed as individual defendants, which was granted.
A mediation before Thomas Greer with Henning Mediation & Arbitration Services failed to resolve the case, and it went to trial before Judge Jane Manning on Aug. 14.
Other than an early dismissal on Aug. 21 so jurors could see the eclipse, Kurle said the trial was a “relatively straightforward failure-to-monitor case.”
Kurle said that McCombs had suffered a head injury about 20 years before the wreck and had to “re-learn how to live her life.”
“One of our themes was that her husband had nursed her through one tragedy, then had to deal with another one,” she said.
According to the pretrial order, the plaintiffs’ arguments emphasized that McCombs was morbidly obese and had undergone a change in condition from alert to lethargic that should have led to a call for electronic pulse monitoring.
The defense account said medical staff had appropriately monitored and evaluated McCombs throughout her treatment.
A key plaintiffs’ witness was Virginia Commonwealth University Health System’s nursing expert Stephen Furman, whom Kurle described as an “in the trenches guy who … had a lot of sway with the jury.”
Defense experts included internal and pulmonary disease specialist John Allen Cooper Jr. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Special damages included more than $517,000 in medical expenses, and Kurle said Perez asked the jury for $4 million.
On Aug, 23, the jury took about four hours to award $3,216,154, including $2.2 million to Dennis McCombs and $1,016,154 to his wife’s estate.
The verdict allocated 75 percent of the damages to Kennestone and 25 percent to Wellstar.
The lawyers did not speak to the jurors afterward, Kurle said.
Hall and Hair, she added, “did a great job and it was a pleasure to litigate with them.”