A Hall County jury awarded $3 million Tuesday, March 23, in a verdict for the estate of a Jackson County woman who died four days after surgery at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to court records.
Frances Mitchell, 42, of Jackson County, died May 7, 2016. The civil suit was filed in November 2017 naming the administratrix of Mitchell’s estate and Mitchell’s two adult children as plaintiffs.
Northeast Georgia Health System, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Northeast Georgia Physicians Group and Dr. Andrew Green were named as defendants in the case.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Ken Lewis, said his clients were “happy that the truth came out.”
“I think we had a great jury that listened to the evidence and came to a just verdict,” he said.
According to the original complaint, Green discussed a plan with Mitchell to remove a pelvic mass from Mitchell’s abdomen.
The lawsuit alleged Green pierced Mitchell’s small intestine during the surgery and “failed to properly examine Frances Mitchell’s small intestine to ensure that no gastrointestinal injury had occurred before he finished the surgical procedure.”
In the defendants’ original answers to the allegations, they said “the potential of the perforation of the small intestine is a known risk of the surgical procedure performed, but these defendants can neither confirm nor deny that such a perforation occurred.”
The defendants filed a motion Tuesday asking the judge to rule that there is not sufficient evidence in the case for the jury to rule in the plaintiff’s favor.
Mitchell was discharged two hours after surgery but returned 12 hours later to the emergency room by ambulance for complaints of severe nausea, vomiting and “abdominal pain worse than anything she had ever experienced,” according to the original complaint.
“While in the NGMC emergency room, Frances’ daughter … overheard the medical staff dismiss Frances’ complaints and symptoms because they observed what they believed were drug related needle marks in Frances’ arms when in fact they were IV needle marks made by NGMC staff before surgery,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs alleged Mitchell was discharged May 5, 2016, when “liquid feces was leaking into Frances’ body cavity from a small intestine perforation made by defendant Dr. Green.”
Lewis said the family called over the couple of days before Mitchell’s death saying her condition was not improving, though the calls were not documented.
According to the defense’s motion, a registered nurse testified about the phone calls.
“Not only is (the nurse) totally unqualified to opine on causation, she did not have any information regarding what information was provided over the phone, what was said, or what should have been done in response,” according to the defense’s motion. “Accordingly, because (the nurse) is not qualified to give this opinion, (the) plaintiffs have failed to provide a causal link between the alleged violation of the standard of care — the failure to document phone calls in the medical record — and Ms. Mitchell’s death.”
The Times reached out to Green’s attorney, M. Scott Bailey, who deferred comment to NGHS’ spokesman Sean Couch.
“We feel for the family involved in this case, just as we do for any family who has lost a loved one,” NGHS Chief Legal Officer Andrei Boyarshinov said in a statement. “This particular case involved a high-risk procedure with recognized potential for complications, which was discussed with the patient prior to surgery. Independent expert reviews of the case found no evidence of negligence or malpractice. Northeast Georgia Health System supports Dr. Green and continues to make safety its top priority. Dr. Green is an extremely skilled surgeon who has more than a decade of experience leading patients with difficult, high-risk cases to positive outcomes.”
“He is also considered a Surgeon of Excellence in Robotic Surgery by the Surgical Review Corporation – an internationally-recognized organization that conducts independent evaluations of how well surgeons and hospitals provide safe, effective and evidence-based care.”
NGHS said it plans to appeal the decision and continue the judicial process.
NGHS confirmed the case has not affected Dr. Green’s ability to practice medicine.