High Blood Pressure Leads To Big Award In Med Mal Case

$5 million for brain-damaged woman is first med-mal win in Colquitt, lawyer says

By Katheryn Hayes Tucker Contact All Articles

Daily Report
October 19, 2012

Edward Meeks, with associate Leah Whittle Eddins: the jury “wanted to do everything they could” for client.

A Colquitt County Superior Court jury awarded $5 million to a woman who went into a coma after being released from the hospital with high blood pressure two days after giving birth by Caesarian section.

The woman, Gwenda Chitty, emerged from the 45-day coma with permanent brain damage, said her lawyer, W. Edward Meeks Jr. of Leesburg. Chitty cannot walk without assistance, is legally blind, and her hands are “cupped” so that she cannot feed herself, he added.

“They really believed my client,” said Meeks, who talked to jurors after the weeklong trial before Judge Harry Altman II concluded Oct. 12. “They wanted to do everything they could to help her.”

Meeks, who tried the case with associate Leah Whittle Eddins, said he believes the verdict is the first in favor of a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case in the history of Colquitt County.

Gregory Talley and Wade Coleman of Valdosta’s Coleman Talley represented the defendants, Dr. David Adcock and Adcock Center for Women’s Health.

“We’re in the process of working out our options for appeal,” said Talley. “The Chittys are obviously very nice people, and the jury returned a verdict in their favor. Having said that, Dr. Adcock is also a very nice person.”

The doctor, a former marathoner, has since closed his obstetrics and gynecology practice because of a brain injury he suffered when he was hit by a truck while running, according to the attorneys.

Meeks said he made a pre-trial demand for the doctor’s $1 million MAG Mutual policy limit, which was refused. Despite a court-ordered mediation, he said no written offers were ever made by the defense.

“For the last three years, they’ve been talking like they thought we didn’t have much of a case,” said Meeks. “The defense didn’t think they had any liability.”

The case goes back to December 2007. Chitty, then 41, was suffering from high blood pressure during her pregnancy. Twice that month, Dr. Adcock hospitalized her for observation and to bring down her blood pressure. She delivered her daughter, Bailey, by Caesarian on Dec. 17. On Dec. 19, she went home. Her blood pressure was 130/90, Meeks said.

Two days later, on the morning of Dec. 21, she went to see the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well and was experiencing extreme swelling, Meeks said. She testified that she wore house slippers to that doctor visit because her feet were too swollen to put on her shoes.

A nurse took her blood pressure twice and got readings of 170/88 and 168/90, the Chittys testified. But the blood pressure readings were not recorded on her chart, and the doctor did not examine her, Meeks said. As Chitty was leaving, she passed the doctor in the hallway and told him she wasn’t feeling well and that her blood pressure was high, Meeks said she testified. He told her to double up on her blood pressure medicine.

At 5:30 that afternoon, her family called paramedics because she couldn’t breathe. By the time she arrived by ambulance at Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie, she was gasping for air. She had to be intubated, which was difficult. She went 15 minutes without a pulse, suffering permanent brain damage, Meeks said. She stayed in a coma for 45 days, causing more physical damage.

Meeks said Chitty’s daughter, who is now 5, sometimes feeds her. They are both cared for by husband and father Douglas Joey Chitty, who works in the cattle business with his brother and has flexible hours. Gwenda Chitty was laid off from her job as a clerk when she was pregnant and will never be able to work again, Meeks said. She also cannot drive, read, cook or do housework. Her speech is halting.

But her mind is clear and she is aware of everything that’s happened, he said.

The plaintiffs presented two expert witnesses: Dr. Aaron Caughey, director of obstetrics and gynecology at the Oregon Health and Science University, and Dr. Scott Sullivan, a practicing OB-GYN specialist and a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. They testified that if the doctor had examined Chitty on the morning of her office visit on Dec. 21 and paid attention to her blood pressure, none of her permanent injuries would have happened, Meeks said.

“It’s a real easy diagnosis,” Meeks said. “Everyone agrees she was suffering from peripartum cardiomyopathy.” The treatment, he said, is to hospitalize the patient and administer intravenous diuretics to bring down the blood pressure. “She had the classic signs: blood pressure going up, difficulty breathing, edema or swelling.”

The defense presented three expert witness to testify that the doctor met the standard of care and was not negligent: Dr. Christopher Hendry, a Macon obstetrician; Dr. George “Trey” Powell III, a Valdosta cardiologist; and Dr. Walter Kernan, a Connecticut internal medicine specialist.

The defense suggested that Chitty only went to the doctor’s office to show the staff her newborn baby and to have her blood pressure checked, according to the defense outline in the pretrial order.

Meeks said he countered that assertion by asking the jury, “What woman four days out from a C-section, not feeling well and with staples still in her belly, wants to take her baby out?”

The most important witnesses in the trial were Gwen and Joey Chitty, Meeks said. They told the jury about their visit to the doctor’s office on Dec. 21 and how they were sent home without an examination or treatment beyond the taking of her blood pressure. She walked into the courtroom and to the witness stand with him holding her up.

“I think it was the most genuine, heartfelt testimony I’ve witnessed at a trial,” said Meeks, who has practiced law for 35 years. “She was the key to this case. She was genuine. She was truthful. She was someone the jury looked at and felt like she’s just like us and we’re going to look after her.”

Meeks said the Chittys hope to use the judgment to remodel their home to make it more handicapped accessible, to pay for the help they need and to buy a motorized wheelchair. He said the verdict has already made a dramatic difference in his client’s outlook.

“Twelve people in her community believed in her,” said Meeks. “I can’t tell you how powerful that is.”