By: Kim Kimzeykim, Source: GoUpstate.com, Originally Published: 8.19.14
A jury awarded a family $2 million in damages for the death of a woman at Spartanburg Medical Center.
Jurors reached the verdict Monday — seven days after the civil trial began.
Dr. Raja Paladugu was among four co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the family of Janice G. Easler. The Spartanburg County woman was hospitalized in July 2009 with nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. She died a couple of weeks after her hospitalization.
Spartanburg Medical Center, a radiologist and a medical group that provides diagnostic and interventional radiology services in Spartanburg and surrounding communities also were named in the suit. Paladugu was the only co-defendant who did not settle out of court. Paladugu is not a hospital employee, but was on the hospital’s medical staff as of last week, according to hospital spokeswoman Jenny Connell.
Findings from Easler’s physical exam, lab evaluation, and scans should have prompted providers to suspect and rule out a medical condition, but their failure to do so broke with the standard of care and led to Easler’s death on Aug. 3, 2009, according to the suit.
Earlier this year, Spartanburg Regional, Upstate Carolina Radiology and Dr. Joseph Kurkjian settled with Easler’s estate for $325,000. The hospital agreed to pay $97,500, while Kurkjian and Upstate Carolina Radiology would pay $227,500, according to a court order.
Plaintiffs were represented by Don Coggins and Wes Kissinger with Spartanburg-based law firm Harrison, Smith, White and Coggins. The attorneys received $130,000 in fees and almost $21,500 to cover costs of the litigation.
Coggins told the jury in opening statements that Easler was hospitalized with what she suspected was a stomach virus.
“She lay there in that hospital bed getting sicker and sicker and sicker. There was no urgency whatsoever in finding out what was wrong with her,” Coggins said.
Coggins said Easler had a potentially dangerous medical condition known as mesenteric ischemia. The condition occurs when one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the intestines narrows or becomes blocked. The blockage may lead to intestinal tissues dying due to decreased blood flow, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery’s website.
Coggins said Easler arrived at the hospital in enough time to receive life-saving treatment. He said Easler was “in agony” near the end of her life.
“Trust plus indifference equals needless tragedy,” he said.
Paladugu’s attorney, Gary Lovell Jr., said in opening statements that his client was a hospitalist who consulted with several specialists and took all the steps in providing Easler’s care.
Lovell, with Charleston-based law firm Carlock, Copeland and Stair, said Paladugu also was on vacation a few days during Easler’s hospitalization.
Paladugu relied on and consulted with specialists to determine Easler’s illness and did not have a “crystal ball” to guide him in his diagnosis, Lovell argued.
Of the $2 million in damages, $900,000 is for pain that Easler suffered before she died; $600,000 is for her family’s loss as a result of her death and $500,000 for punitive damages.
“We provided evidence that this doctor and those working under his supervision over the course of a two-week hospital stay, simply missed or ignored signs of a life-threatening illness. And by the time Mrs. Easler was finally seen by a surgeon, she could not be saved. In the end, the jury realized this woman should not have died and it was clear to them that if Dr. Paladugu had done his job, Mrs. Easler would most likely be alive today,” Kissinger said in a written statement.
“Because we are evaluating the defense post-trial options at the trial court level and any possible appeals that may result, we are not allowed to comment on the litigation at this time,” Lovell wrote in an email.