A Hamilton County jury has lodged a $12 million medical malpractice judgment against a prominent local doctor after a procedure intended to diagnose bowel problems left a young woman so brain damaged she can't care for herself.
Attorneys for the plaintiff, 33-year-old Kristen Freeman, said they believe the judgment, issued Thursday, is "one of the largest" to ever be awarded in Hamilton County with regard to allegations of improper medical care.
"It is very, very difficult to get a judgment against a doctor," said Matt Dwyer, an Atlanta personal injury trial lawyer who helped represent Ms. Freeman along with two other attorneys. "People don't like to find doctors at fault."
The jury, however, found that Dr. Michael Goodman, a gastroenterologist with a private practice in the Medical Mall at Erlanger hospital, was only 51 percent at fault for the incident that led to Ms. Freeman's permanent brain damage. So Ms. Freeman is allowed to collect only $6.12 million, according to the jury's decision.
Mr. Dwyer said he felt like the judgment was a "compromise" precisely because of people's conflicted feelings when it comes to finding doctors at fault for the care they provide.
"Dr. Goodman contended that Ms. Freeman should have known on her own to go to the emergency room" when she started vomiting and experiencing pain almost immediately after having a colonoscopy and endoscopy done. He said Dr. Goodman himself never told Ms. Freeman to go to the emergency room.
"We are very happy" that the jury seemed to realize that Dr. Goodman was at fault for Ms. Freeman's injuries, Mr. Dwyer said.
Dr. Goodman's attorney David Harrison said Thursday they intend to appeal the case.
"Dr. Goodman believes in the jury system. He believes the jury did what they were instructed to do by the court. He believes he will ultimately prevail in this case," Mr. Harrison said in a message left on voice mail.
According to Ms. Freeman's attorneys, their client had been having bowel trouble for years. A 30-year-old interior designer at the time, Ms. Freeman scheduled an appointment with Dr. Goodman for April 27, 2006, to have a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, procedures used to diagnose diseases of the small intestine and colon.
Ms. Freeman was hoping to rule out certain disorders with the procedures, said Bill Bird, another of her lawyers. It later was revealed that the endoscopy had caused a tear in the area of her small intestine just below her stomach.
By 5 p.m. the same day as the procedures, Ms. Freeman was experiencing extreme pain and constantly throwing up, according to the lawsuit. She called Dr. Goodman's office, her attorneys said, but was only given a prescription for anti-nausea medication, the lawsuit states.
The next morning, her attorneys say, Ms. Freeman called Dr. Goodman's office to complain again of her symptoms, which ultimately led to his recommendation that she go to Erlanger to have X-rays performed.
By the time she reached Erlanger on April 28, 2006, Ms. Freeman was "so weak that she required use of a wheelchair," the lawsuit states.
As a direct result of the complications of the endoscopy and colonoscopy, the lawsuit states, Ms. Freeman suffered cardiopulmonary arrest and severe brain damage "which has resulted in permanent and total disability," the lawsuit says.
Dr. Goodman should have known that vomiting and pain are symptoms of the most dangerous complication of a perforated intestine, which can come from a colonoscopy or endoscopy procedure, Ms. Freeman's attorneys contend.
"Our position was that Dr. Goodman should have examined (Ms. Freeman) the same day she started complaining of her symptoms," Mr. Bird said.