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Judge orders new trial in hospital injury case
Girardeau finds $6,980 in damages were inadequate
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A judge has granted a new trial for a woman who won a personal injury suit against Northeast Georgia Medical Center but was awarded a fraction of the damages she was asking.

Lynn Garner sought about $4 million in a civil suit against the hospital after she fell down an unlit, wet, concrete stairwell outside the emergency room entrance in April 2006. Garner suffered a fractured arm, fractured knee and contusions to the face and back in the fall. She contends the fall left her with chronic pain.

The stairwell, a fire escape for the hospital’s Walters Auditorium, was later torn down during an extensive construction project.

A jury agreed in an August 2009 trial in Hall County Superior Court that the hospital was at fault for having an unreasonably dangerous condition. But it awarded Garner just $6,980 for one year of medication and pain management treatment.

In an order issued this week, Senior Judge John Girardeau wrote that the damages awarded “are, in the court’s opinion, clearly so inadequate as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence in the case.”

The damages awarded were so-called “special” damages. The jury of eight women and four men awarded no general damages for pain and suffering, even though it found in Garner’s favor.

Garner’s attorney, Wyc Orr, said the judge made the right decision.

“We believe that the law required a new trial, and we look forward to that trial,” Orr said.

Tom Cole, the attorney representing the hospital, said he was disappointed with the judge’s decision and was consulting with his client before determining what step to take next.

The hospital could seek an appeal of the ruling.

No new trial date has been set.

The verdict was one of at least two civil cases tried last year in which a Hall County jury found in favor of the plaintiff but awarded little in the way of damages.

In November, a jury decided the Laurelwood mental health treatment facility was negligent in the molestation of two female patients but awarded just $1 to the plaintiff.

Janice Lowman sued Northeast Georgia Health System after her teenage son was convicted of having sexual contact with two girls at Laurelwood.

A jury agreed that Laurelwood was negligent in the conditions at the facility that allowed Corey Benjamin Pirkle to commit the acts, but rejected his mother’s claim of damages of more than $350,000.

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