A jury of citizens in Walker County, Alabama, has returned a record $4 million verdict against an emergency room physician at Walker Baptist Medical Center.
Terry Lynn Hallmark, a 40 year old male from Carbon Hill, Alabama, checked in at the Walker Baptist Medical Center Emergency Room in January, 2008, complaining of chest pain and other signs and symptoms of a heart condition. He was discharged from the hospital hours later. Mr. Hallmark collapsed of sudden cardiac death at his home 33 hours later and was unable to be revived. He left behind a wife of 22 years and two young children.
Hare Wynn filed a lawsuit in January, 2010, against Dr. Charles Shipman, the attending ER physician, on behalf of Mr. Hallmark’s family.
“This was a very important case to set the standard for what ER doctors must do before sending a sick patient home,” says Jamie Moncus, who tried the case along with Hare Wynn attorneys, Shay Samples and Ashley Peinhardt for 7 days.
The Trial and Ruling
The ruling in favor of the plaintiff is a significant great victory for patient safety statewide, sending the message that ER doctors must carefully rule out serious life-threatening conditions before sending a patient home.
Testimony from both sides centered on the standard of care, which required the defendant to consider a cardiac problem and rule it out before sending the patient home. In order to rule out a cardiac problem as a potential cause of the patient’s problems, the attending physician should have ordered the appropriate testing. Blood tests would have led to the correct diagnosis and treatment of Mr. Hallmark’s heart disease. In this instance, the defendant did not order the appropriate tests. No blood test for cardiac damage or ischemia was ordered.
The defense claimed Mr. Hallmark’s illness was gastrointestinal related or a viral stomach-bug and had nothing to do with his heart.
“That’s how they defend all of these cases, and very sadly, they can usually find experts to spin the truth, but this jury had the common sense and the courage to speak out and send the appropriate message,” says Mr. Moncus. “It endangers all of us when supposed experts come into court and say that the medical textbooks written to train ER doctors nationwide don’t really matter. That’s the position the defense took in this case, and the jury saw right through it.”
Under Alabama law, the only damages recoverable in a wrongful death case are punitive, to punish the wrongdoer and to deter others from committing the same or similar errors in the future. The jury is not allowed to consider the monetary value of the deceased’s life, but only the amount of wrongdoing by the physician. Hare Wynn thanks the citizens of Walker County for standing up for good medical care and patient safety for all Alabamians.