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Trial starts for wrongful death suit against former RMC doctor

A Calhoun County jury Tuesday heard attorneys’ opening statements and expert testimony in a Childersburg woman’s lawsuit against a former Regional Medical Center doctor, claiming his failure to diagnose her husband’s condition in 2014 led to his death.

Angela Townsend’s attorneys argued Tuesday morning that when her husband, John Townsend, was admitted to RMC’s emergency department on March 17, 2014, complaining of a painful, softball-sized, red lump in his right groin, Dr. Jesus Perez determined five potential diagnoses, including a pseudoaneurysm, through a CAT scan. 

However, attorney Shay Samples said, Townsend, 60, was not given a color doppler ultrasound, which was recommended by another doctor and would have likely detected the pseudoaneurysm. Instead, Townsend was discharged and told to follow up with another physician the next morning.

Samples said the pseudoaneurysm burst the next morning, causing Townsend to go into hemorrhagic shock, shutting his organs down.

According to Samples, Perez had a duty to identify potential diagnoses, identify potentially life-threatening issues and diagnose or disprove the existence of those issues before discharging a patient in his care from the ER.

Perez’s attorney, Mark Lee, argued to jurors that Perez did everything he could have done while caring for Townsend. According to Lee,Townsend’scare was taken over by Dr. Brian Greene after Perez determined the potential diagnoses, because Perez had determined Townsend needed a specialist to treat his condition.

“He worked up Mr. Townsend to the point that he had to have a surgeon take over,” Lee said.

Lee said Greene called Dr. John Valente, who had operated on Townsend nearly a month prior. Lee said Valente told Greene to send Townsend home and have him follow up the next day. However, Lee said, Valente said he was not told of the possibility that Townsend had a pseudoaneurysm during the phone call. 

Lee said the plaintiff’s attorneys didn’t consult their expert witness, Dr. Martin Carey, on the case until after the lawsuit was filed and suggested that Carey was biased because he was being paid to testify by the attorneys.

In his final opening statements, Samples argued, Perez notified Greene of Townsend’s condition around 5:30 p.m. and Greene arrived at Townsend’s bedside around 8:45 p.m., meaning Perez had hours in which he could have ordered Townsend undergo the ultrasound.

Because Perez did not order the ultrasound, Carey said on the witness stand, he did not believe Perez met appropriate standards while caring for Townsend.

“In emergency medicine, you try to think about what’s the worst possible thing that could happen,” Carey said. “A pseudoaneurysm can kill you at any moment.”

Carey said he was consulted by attorneys after they filed the lawsuit, but reviewed Townsend’s medical records and gave his opinion on them before reading the formal complaint and was paid $3,000 per day in court.

When questioned by Lee, Carey said it was possible, but unsafe, for an ER physician to sign discharge forms for a patient under a surgeon’s care. However, Carey said, that is not done where he currently works.

Angela Townsend initially filed the lawsuit against RMC, Greene and Perez in March 2016, two years after her husband’s death. Lee said she filed the lawsuit the day before the statute of limitations on the case expired.

According to Jones, the jury is expected to hear from a second witness beginning Wednesday morning.

Editor's note: This article corrects the plaintiff's city of residence from a previous version posted.


Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563.