A Fulton County jury has ruled a hospital must pay $8 million to a man who alleged nurses broke his neck while moving him from a chair to a bed.
Following a seven-day trial before Fulton County State Court Judge Myra Dixon, the jury returned a verdict against North Fulton Medical Center on Nov. 21. The award includes $6.8 million for William Glynn Jr., whose legs are now paralyzed, and $1.2 million for his wife, Victoria Glynn, in a loss of consortium claim.
Mrs. Glynn’s testimony was key because she witnessed the accident she said injured her husband, but the nurses never documented it and denied it happened, according to the winning lawyer, Charles McAleer of the McAleer Law Firm.
“It came down to credibility,” McAleer said in an interview Tuesday. “It was hard for the jury to buy what it was they were selling.”
McAleer tried the case with Katherine Jackson and Amer Ahmad of his firm.
Kevin Race of Insley & Race defended the hospital, along with David Johnson and Kristin Malcolm of his firm. Race said he will appeal.
“Before trial, following a Daubert hearing, Judge Dixon had excluded a re-creation video done by Plaintiff’s biomechanical expert,” Race said in an email. “During trial, when plaintiff’s counsel went to play a day in the life video, the entire re-creation video was played to the jury instead. After initially indicating that a mistrial would be granted, the Court did not grant the mistrial. This, along with a number of other evidentiary issues, will form the basis of an appeal.”
The story began eight years ago—Sept. 8, 2011. Glynn, then 66, was headed to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to catch a flight to Texas for his work as a configuration manager in the aerospace industry. It was 6 a.m. and still dark. He looked and thought he didn’t see anything before he pulled out from an intersection, but he was wrong. He was hit. T-bone style. It was his fault, McAleer said.
The defense lawyers emphasized the severity of the wreck in their summary for the consolidated pretrial order. They called it a “devastating car accident” and said Glynn “had to be extracted from the vehicle.” The EMT’s, they said, reported “an obvious loss of lower extremity sensation and limited use of his arm.”
The same day, he underwent emergency surgery at North Fulton Medical Center. The defense team described it as “emergency cervical decompression and anterior spinal fusion surgery” to repair a “burst cervical fracture” involving three columns of the spine. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Weaver, installed an Atlantis Vision Elite Anterior Cervical Plating System to stabilize the spine. The jury apportioned no fault to the doctor.
The issue at trial was what happened three days after that surgery, on Sept. 11. The Glynns alleged that he was recovering and showing signs of movement again. He was sitting up in a heavy recliner in his hospital room. When nurses came to move him back to the bed, they used a Hoyer lift with a sling attached. McAleer said Glynn was about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 210 pounds.
As they raised and moved him out of the chair toward the bed, his legs began to slide down toward the floor.
To prevent him from falling, a nurse “panicked” and started moving him back toward the chair, McAleer said. Glynn’s head hit the back of the recliner, forcing his head against his chest and dislodging the surgical screws holding his spine together.
“They broke his neck again,” McAleer said. “It was devastating how much more damage they did.”
The hospital claimed the incident with the chair never happened. The nurses never documented it. In fact, they wrote in the chart that he was moved without incident, McAleer said. But Mrs. Glynn was in the room and saw it. She testified that more staff members rushed in after it happened. One told the nurses they had him strapped in wrong. Mrs. Glynn documented the incident in an email to the hospital and testified about it, even though the nurses said they didn’t remember it.
Two days after the alleged chair accident, Glynn underwent a second surgery to replace the hardware in his spine and repair it again. McAleer alleged that the damage could have been reduced or prevented if the nurses had reported the injury immediately and the second surgery had been done sooner. Instead, McAleer said “everyone was in the dark” about why Glynn’s condition was deteriorating.
“The simplest mistake can have catastrophic results,” McAleer said. He added that Glynn was lucky his wife was there and saw what happened.
The case is Glynn v. North Fulton Medical Center, No. 13EV017577C.