Roughly 85-90% of the cases we see are resolved through settlements. However, that wasn’t the case for Connie Lockhart. Her case went all the way through a jury trial, where 12 individuals were tasked with deciding the future of the case through a verdict.
Fighting for justice in these cases looks a little different. A lot of the medical malpractice cases we handle resolve quickly. However, some of these trials can take years to get in front of a jury and receive a resolution.
Connie Lockhart was taken to the emergency department and the ER physician believed she needed to have a femoral catheter placed – a tube they place into one of your large blood vessels so a doctor can deliver medicine to you efficiently.
He tried to place the catheter in the vein in her leg, but the problem was inserted it in the wrong blood vessel. Instead of placing it in the femoral vein, he stuck it in the femoral artery. It makes a difference because veins and arteries do different things. Arteries take blood away from the heart and circulate it and veins take blood back to the heart and to the lungs to get more oxygen.
The misplaced tube became a problem because nobody detected it, and another doctor started giving her medicine through the tube that was supposed to be taken back in the direction of her heart. This medication was designed to squeeze down her blood vessels and increase her blood pressure. Instead of this medication going up toward Connie’s heart and being distributed throughout her body, the medicine went down into her right leg and essentially “squeezed up” all her blood vessels at the bottom of her leg.
The result was that her leg did not get the oxygen it needed to survive. Over the next few days and weeks, Connie’s leg became necrotic, which means it started to die from lack of oxygen. It was past the point of no return, and doctors eventually had to amputate the lower part of her leg in order to save her life.
Moving to Trial
Bell Law Firm joined the case after it had been litigated over several years by a different law firm to help move it forward and get it in front of a jury. The trial took place in Fulton County, and was televised. There were two very capable defensive lawyers – one of whom defending the ER physician who misplaced the catheter, and one other who was defending the physician who put the medicine through the tube and didn’t figure out the mistake.
The case demonstrated a couple of critical points about medical malpractice, and the biggest one is the need to be tenacious in these cases. They can wear you down. They can take years to get to trial, but even once you get to the actual two-week trial, the days are extremely long and tiring, plus the time it takes to prepare for the following days. There are a lot of moving parts in these cases in order to persuade the jury that the story you’re presenting is the right story.
One of the ways we were able to tell Connie’s story effectively was through a deliberate choice to use physical models and other visuals so the jury could understand the case in as much detail as possible. For example, we brought a catheter to the courtroom and reenacted how the catheter was placed in Connie’s body vs. proper placement.
Medical malpractice cases can be intimidating for jurors initially because medical professionals have received many years of education in order to understand how all the different medical systems work. This catheter reenactment had a very important impact on the jury, because they were then able to understand the medicine.
One of my primary jobs as the trial lawyer representing a client is to simplify the medicine and to explain it in very simple terms that are accessible to people so they can understand the issues. It’s not that complicated at the end of the day – the human body is a machine, the machine has to be treated a certain way, there are certain rules for how to take care of people. When doctors break these rules and cause harm, that’s when we have a case.
Key Lesson: Tenacity
This case took several years and tenacities to get it to trial, and as of March 2021, it’s still in progress. We received a $4.5M verdict against one of the defendants, but the case continues against the other defendant. We expect to be back in court to continue and conclude Connie’s case, where we’ll fight for the justice she deserves through work, focus and tenacity.
War Stories is a three-part blog series and continues with Michael Barbour’s story here.