A jury found that a Waco physician was not negligent in his treatment of a retired Central Freight Lines employee who developed a rare skin condition in 2011 and died from sepsis.
A 170th State District Court jury deliberated about 45 minutes before deciding that Dr. Michael Burbidge Jr. provided a proper standard of care for Harold Hutchinson.
Mildred Slaughter, Hutchinson’s sister, alleged that Burbidge, a family practice physician with the Providence Health Alliance in Waco, was negligent in the treatment of her 78-year-old brother.
Hutchinson was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a painful skin disorder.
Hutchinson, a dock worker for 32 years at Central Freight Lines, died in August 2011 from sepsis, a complication from infections that caused swelling throughout his body.
In deciding for the doctor, the jury found that Burbidge did “what any family practice physician of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances.”
“Dr. Burbidge greatly appreciates the time and efforts of the jury,” said Waco attorney Colin O’Neill, who represented the doctor with David Dumas. “We are certainly sympathetic to the situaion of Mr. Hutchinson and his family, but most certainly, he didn’t cause the SJS, and that was confirmed by the jury’s unanimous decision.”
Slaughter, representing Hutchinson’s estate, initially was seeking $4 million in the lawsuit.
But on Thursday, her attorney, Todd Turner, of Dallas, asked the jury to find Burbidge negligent and award $400,000 for pain and mental anguish and an additional $146,734 for medical expenses.
Turner said the family is disappointed in the verdict and is considering an appeal.
“We gave it a valiant effort and were pleased with the evidence we presented,” Turner said. “We are convinced the evidence the jury got to see was sufficient to support the fact that Mr. Hutchinson took Bactrim, and it was clear from the hospital records and direct history from the patient that Dr. Burbidge should not have prescribed a known allergen to Mr. Hutchinson.”
Burbidge, a former Army major who served as a flight surgeon with the 4th Infantry Division, said he followed a normal course of treatment for Hutchinson, who also suffered from diabetes, prostate ailments, high blood pressure and a variety of other conditions.
Turner alleged that Burbidge improperly prescribed Bactrim, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, the side effects from which he claimed led to Hutchinson developing the rare skin disorder Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
Burbidge said he prescribed Bactrim twice for rashes Hutchinson complained of, but said they were for limited times only and could not have contributed to his developing Stevens-Johnson syndrome months later.
In testimony Thursday morning, Dr. Scott Lea, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said Burbidge’s treatment of Hutchinson was “exemplary.”
O’Neill and Dumas told the jury that Stevens-Johnson syndrome is so rare that family practice physicians see such a case every 125 years. They said the ailment is rare, unpredictable, unpreventable and, once someone is afflicted, it is uncurable.
Burbidge is a “caring, compassionate physician,” who did everything he could to help Hutchinson and nothing to cause or hasten his death, O’Neill said.