A Calhoun County jury on Friday ordered a former Regional Medical Center physician to pay $2 million in damages to a Childersburg woman claiming his failure to diagnose her husband in 2014 caused his death.
Dr. Jesus Perez was found responsible by the jury for failing to order a color Doppler ultrasound for 60-year-old John Townsend after he was admitted to the ER. Townsend died from a pseudoaneurysm the next morning. The Townsends lived in Oxford at the time of his death.
The jury ordered Perez to pay $2 million in punitive damages to John Townsend’s wife, Angela, who filed the lawsuit in 2016. She initially filed the lawsuit against Perez, Dr. Brian Greene and RMC, but released RMC and settled with Greene for $1 million.
Because Greene agreed to pay the settlement, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones said, $1 million will be subtracted from the $2 million Perez was ordered to pay.
Angela Townsend said she has waited five years to see justice for her husband. She said she believed her husband was looking down on her and her family throughout the weeklong trial.
“I just don’t want nobody to go through what I went through,” Townsend said. “That’s just plain and simple. There’s no sense in what we went through, and it needs to be taken care of.”
Townsend complained of a painful, softball-sized lump in his right groin before being admitted to the ER. Doctors gave Townsend a CT scan, which identified the lump as a fluid collection, but did not perform the color Doppler ultrasound needed to diagnose the lump as a pseudoaneurysm. Townsend was discharged from the hospital around 11 p.m.
The next morning, Townsend’s pseudoaneurysm ruptured and he was taken back to RMC, where he died.
Hopefully, said Townsend’s attorney, Ashley Peinhardt, the verdict will make other doctors in Perez’s position think twice before failing to diagnose a patient.
“I think the jury wanted to send a specific message that we talked about in closing arguments,” Peinhardt said. “That is, no ER doctor can discharge a patient when they suspect they have a deadly condition.”
Testimony from numerous doctors, who were either involved in the case or spoke as expert witnesses, showed how complex communication between numerous doctors collaborating on the care of a patient can become. The testimony also indicated how patients can get hurt because of miscommunication between doctors.
During closing arguments, attorneys on both sides argued over whether Perez met the appropriate standards while caring for John Townsend when he was admitted to the ER on March 17, 2014.
Peinhardt argued that, throughout Townsend’s initial stay in the ER, he was under Perez’s care the entire time and that Perez initialled Townsend’s discharge papers, releasing him before he was diagnosed.
Perez’s attorney, Mark Lee, argued that Perez consulted with Greene, the surgeon on call, after he realized the lump on Townsend’s groin required surgery, thus transferring his care to Greene. Lee said Perez kept Townsend in stable condition and “worked him up” to the point where he knew Townsend required a surgeon.
In a video of Greene’s prior deposition shown Thursday to jurors, Greene claimed he called Dr. John Valente, who operated five months prior on Townsend for an aneurysm and who recommended that Greene discharge Townsend and instruct him to follow-up with Valente the next morning.
However, Valente said Wednesday on the witness stand that Greene told him the lump could have been a seroma or a hematoma, but didn’t mention the possibility of a pseudoaneurysm. Valente also claimed that he recommended a color Doppler ultrasound, and did not realize a radiologist had already recommended one after the CT scan.
Peinhardt argued that Perez was highly suspicious of a pseudoaneurysm, but didn’t do anything to stop Townsend’s release.
“How can we let that go?” Peinhardt said. “How can we say, ‘If you suspect a deadly condition, you can leave.’”
Lee argued that Perez relied on the expertise of Greene and Valente, and trying to override their decision would be improper.
Lee said all of the witnesses, most of whom were called by the defendants, except for one believed Perez did his job correctly.
Jurors also heard from the last witness at the beginning of the trial. Dr. Russ Ronson was among the witnesses who spoke in Perez’s favor.
Ronson said Valente could have come to the hospital himself and cared for Townsend. Valente also could have viewed the results of the CT scan remotely or had another physician test him a photo of the film.
“It is well within the realms of surgical care to look at the films yourself and make a decision,” Ronson said.
According to Ronson, Townsend died while he was following a plan set by Greene and Valente, not while he was under Perez’s care.
Lee and Alex Wyatt, another of Perez’s attorneys, declined to comment after the verdict was reached.