A jury determined Wednesday that officials at the former Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center were not negligent in the death of a 35-year-old Corsicana woman who went to the hospital in 2011 complaining of lower back pain.
A 170th State District Court jury, who heard seven days of testimony in the trial of the wrongful death lawsuit, deliberated an hour and 15 minutes before siding with the hospital.
Daniel Gann, a former chaplain at Hillcrest; his two sons; and Marjorie Coslett, his deceased wife’s mother, sued Scott & White Memorial Hospital, doing business as Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, for what the family claims was the narcotic drug overdose death of his wife, Sarah.
Prior to merger
The lawsuit was filed before the hospital became the Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center as a result of the merger between the Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare.
Todd Kelly, one of the attorneys for the Gann family, asked the jury in summations Wednesday not only to return a verdict in favor of the Gann family, he invited them to be part of history. He told jurors that there has not been a jury verdict for plaintiffs in a medical malpractice suit in 170th State District Court in at least 27 years.
Kelly said after the trial that he thought it was “a pretty clear-cut negligence case,” and added that his clients are devastated by the verdict.
“Children are not supposed to lose their mothers, and husbands are not supposed to lose their wives when they walk into an emergency room for kidney stones,” Kelly said. “If we don’t hold hospitals accountable for multiple errors and omissions, then it could be any one of us or our mothers or our wives. Everyone thinks that lawsuits are frivolous until it is one of their own, but when we fail to hold hospitals accountable, as this jury in Waco did today, it puts all of us at risk.
“We regret deeply that we could not provide justice to the Gann family. As I left the courthouse today, I looked at the top of the rotunda and saw the perfect example for what happened inside the courtroom. Lady Justice had no scales,” he said, referring to the statue of Themis, whose left arm was torn off by high winds in June 2014.
Dallas attorney Stan Thiebaud, who represented the hospital, declined comment after the trial.
“While we are confident in the treatment by our medical staff, we are still heartbroken and mindful of this family’s loss,” said Glenn Robinson, the Waco region president of Baylor Scott & White. “Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with the family.”
Thiebaud told the jury in summations that hospital doctors and nurses did not overdose Gann with a lethal cocktail of pain medications, including Dilaudid, morphine and Phenergan. The timing and strength of the doses were well within the standard of care and far below the “tremendous amounts” of painkillers she was given in previous trips to the hospital, Thiebaud said.
She had a “proven tolerance” to the drugs and had no previous side effects or other problems from the narcotic painkillers, Thiebaud said.
Kelly charged that the hospital’s lackluster record keeping and inattention to detail led to a lethal overdose of pain medications after Gann was admitted to the hospital complaining of back pain similar to kidney stones on Oct. 5, 2011.
He said the hospital failed to chart a negative reaction she had to Dilaudid in the emergency room and continued to give her more pain-killing medication during the next 48 hours without properly monitoring her vital signs and respiration rates.
Thiebaud countered that Gann, a medical assistant, was anemic when she was admitted to the hospital and that the bad reaction she had was to a transfusion, not to the Dilaudid. He said hospital staff followed proper protocols, and reminded them of testimony that indicated at least five Texas hospitals adhere to the same patient-care guidelines.
An autopsy showed Gann had an enlarged heart, which could have contributed to her death, he said.
Kelly told the jury that while the autopsy report used vague language, it said a possible contributing factor in her death was the medication or a reaction to the medication. The cause of death was undetermined, although her death certificate said she died from respiratory failure, he said.
While Thiebaud said the medical staff monitored Gann through the night before her death, Kelly argued that Gann’s vital signs were not taken for more than eight hours before she was discovered “Code Blue.”
“The hospital staff said, ‘We’re so sorry. We didn’t want to disturb her. We thought she was sleeping,’ ” Kelly said.
Kelly reminded jurors about testimony that showed Gann was given Narcan, a drug specifically used to combat drug overdoses. But Thiebaud countered that Narcan is dispensed in many “Code Blue” incidents in which a patient is found unresponsive.
“They did not meet the burden of proof, and the science is just overwhelmingly against it,” Thiebaud said of the plaintiffs’ overdose arguments.
Jury foreman Kyle Citrano said the jury felt bad for the Gann family, but it was clear to most on the panel that the plaintiffs did not prove their case for negligence, which was defined as a “failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a hospital of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances.”
“I’m a father. I have two kids. It’s a sad case,” Citrano said. “You feel badly for the family, but at the end of the day, as a jury, you have to look at the evidence and look at the case and see where everything lies. The attorneys on both sides did a good job putting their cases out there, but I felt like we were pretty unanimous when we got into the jury room. But for me, I felt like the defense put on a very good case. They answered the allegations and presented the evidence to support their case in a way that went above and beyond what the plaintiffs’ arguments were.
“While the plaintiffs first brought expert witnesses, I felt like more of it was their opinions rather than what the standards are and what the evidence showed. It was a hard case, and at the end of the day, the woman’s death certificate is still somewhat clouded. But I never was brought to the point where I thought Hillcrest was responsible for her death.”