When John Townsend was admitted to RMC’s emergency department on March 17th, 2104, he had the tragic misfortune of coming under the care of the wrong doctor, one who did not—for John anyway—follow what is commonly referred to in emergency medicine as the “Worst First Principle.” This principle refers to the critical practice of emergency room doctors in establishing a list of possible conditions to explain a patient’s symptoms, with all possibilities ranked according to “worst first.” That is to say that the most serious, life-threatening condition is placed at the top of the list, and that diagnosis is presumed to be the diagnosis until definitively ruled out through tests and examination. Once ruled out, that process is then repeated until the correct diagnosis is made.
Three weeks earlier, John had undergone surgery to repair an abdominal aorta aneurysm by his doctor—Dr. Valente. Pseudoaneurysms are recognized deadly complications from this type of surgery—if not treated immediately—and John had all the classic signs and symptoms. The emergency room doctor—Dr. Perez—ordered a cat scan. When the results came back a pseudoaneursym was listed amongst the most likely critical possibilities and a Color Dopplar Ultrasound was recommended in order to make a definitive diagnosis. Perez, however, disregarded that recommendation as did the on-call surgeon, Dr. Greene, with whom he briefly consulted. Instead, Perez sent John home—with instructions to see Valente the following day. That next morning however, John’s pseudoaneurysm burst. He was rushed to the hospital but it was too late to save his life.
In March of 2016, Shay Samples at Hare Wynn, filed a lawsuit on behalf of John’s wife, Angela, against RMC, Dr. Greene and Dr. Perez, alleging that the failure to diagnose john’s condition led to his death. He later released RMC from the lawsuit, settled with Dr. Greene for $1 million and pursued the case against Perez.
Shay worked on the case with attorney Ashley Peinhardt. Angela really liked them both. She says, “Shay was a steady, strong, calming influence on me and Ashley was a dear. They were so genuine! As things moved forward, they had to reel me in from time to time because I had never gone through anything like that before. I didn’t know what to expect. It was scary, but they were very patient and kind.”
Angela says that Shay reminded her of Matlock—one of her very favorite shows—and there
were many “Matlock Moments” at trial. Perez testified that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He had turned the case over to Dr. Greene. Once having done that, John was no longer his responsibility. Greene was the one at fault and had already paid $1 million. When Shay cross examined him, however, he made it apparent just how outrageous and irresponsible that position really was—skillfully cutting away at Perez’s testimony with the dexterity and precision of a surgeon—exposing the bare, irrefutable facts underneath: Perez was in charge of the ER; he sent John home without diagnosing or treating him; both he and Greene were jointly negligent/liable for his completely preventable death. Shay then moved on to methodically deconstructing the qualifications of the defense’s expert witnesses—and all with his fascinating blend of quick wit, killer instincts and southern charm. Angela says it was just thrilling to watch and she sat transfixed as the process unfolded:
“Shay was brilliant….. just wonderful! I couldn’t get over it! He did an amazing job with Perez and the defense witnesses. He must have done research on all of them because he knew a lot about them. He also has really good instincts because he always knew just what buttons to push in order to get a certain reaction. And when he seemed to know that somebody wasn’t telling the truth, he would say things that were really funny and quirky and the jury just loved it!”
On August 16, 2019, the Jury found Perez responsible for John’s death and ordered him to pay $2 million. As he and Greene were jointly responsible, the $1 million Greene had already paid was subtracted from that amount.
Angela says, “When the verdict was read in my favor, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. Three years went by so fast. Because I had had so much confidence in Shay and Ashley, I had been able to just turn everything over to them knowing everything was safe in their hands. They knew what they were doing, they worked very hard for me and I had complete trust in them. They always helped me anyway they possibly could. I can’t even begin to explain what a great job they did. They knew John’s death should never have happened. My husband was simply the best. We were married 38 years and I miss him every day.”
Angela will never forget something that happened the day before the verdict came in. As the trial came to a close—at closing arguments, Angela remembers sitting in the courtroom—at peace with whatever came next. In her words, “I felt a hand on my left side squeezing my arm, but as I turned to look and see who it was—there was nobody there. I swear to this day, I thought it was my husband sitting there—as if he was telling me it was all going to be ok and he was right—it was.”