A $45.8 Million Malpractice Verdict was reached for a woman who was left with brain damage.
The main reason for such a large settlement was an eye-grabbing opening and a lineup of experts that painted a vivid picture on the broader meaning behind a doctor’s standard of care, a lawyer who spearheaded the plaintiff’s case said in detailing the trial to CVN. Shannon Trabue suffered in a heart attack days after the 2009 birth of her child. Trabue’s attorneys, including Stone; his sons, Ryals and James Stone; and Michael Regas II, claim Atlanta Women’s Specialists obstetricians, Drs. Rebecca Simonsen and Stanley Angus, failed to control Trabue’s blood pressure spikes or properly treat her fluid overload after childbirth, which caused a pulmonary edema that stopped her heart.
In his opening statement, the plaintiffs’ attorney used a bucket and a table full of water bottles to highlight his contention that Simonsen’s negligent care set in motion an ultimately catastrophic fluid overload. Walking jurors through Trabue’s treatment records, Stone poured water into a one-gallon bucket each time entries showed Trabue was given additional IV fluids, despite notes that she was not urinating enough. The water soon overflowed into a larger container Stone said represented Trabue’s body. And, importantly, her lungs.
If that demonstration grabbed jurors’ attention, Stone said his lineup of obstetrics experts, including Drs. Eric Lichter, George Saade, and Katharine Wenstrom drove home the claim that Angus and Simonsen failed to properly care for Trabue.
Wenstrom, the director of maternal-fetal medicine and professor at Brown University’s The Warren Alpert Medical School and a co-author of Williams Obstetrics, underlined her feelings on Trabue’s treatment when she testified that, while she had appeared as a defense expert in other medical malpractice cases, this was the first time she had ever testified as a plaintiffs expert. “When I read this case, I was just really horrified because this patient had one of the most common complications we see in pregnancy,” Wenstrom said.
Wenstrom told jurors she believed Trabue’s heart attack could have been prevented with proper blood pressure management and treatment through diuretics. “The thing that really makes this a tragedy to me is that this is the most common complication of general OB,” Wenstrom said.
Stone told CVN Wenstrom and the other obstetricians testifying for the plaintiff struck a compelling chord with the jury. “Wenstrom, she was just as strong as she could be,” Stone said. “But Lichter was, too, and Saade was just a great cleanup. They all hit home runs. The jury liked all of their testimony.”
As powerful as the lineup of obstetrics experts was, Stone said he believed the fact that a key witness testified out of order helped undercut the defense’s case in the eyes of the jury.
Instead, Cooper said he believed Trabue’s heart attack was more likely caused by an embolism, or blood clot in her lung.
The problem, Stone told CVN, was there was no evidence to support Cooper’s theory, and the plaintiff’s expert that followed Cooper, Dr. George Nichols, former Kentucky chief medical examiner, said Cooper’s argument was untenable.
Jurors deliberated 15 hours before delivering their verdict. Stone said he was not surprised by the award’s size, which included $18 million in damages for Keith Trabue’s loss of marital relationship. “I was not the least bit surprised at that verdict because we had focus grouped this case 12 times before we tried it. It was well within the bell curve,” Stone said.