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Jury finds radiologist and ER physician liable for 'locked-in' syndrome suffered by stroke patient

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | November 01, 2022
Stroke
A radiologist and ER doctor have been ordered to pay $75 million to a patient who was left with locked-in syndrome after suffering a catastrophic stroke.
A radiologist and emergency room physician have been ordered by a Georgia jury to pay $75 million after being found responsible for the “locked-in” paralysis of a stroke patient.

In 2015, 32-year-old Jonathan Buckelew was rushed to a hospital in Roswell, where imaging showed he was having a brain stem stroke caused by a chiropractic neck adjustment, reported Courtroom View Network (CVN).

Buckelew’s attorneys say that doctors failed to properly diagnose or treat his condition until the next day, leading to his “locked-in" state, in which a person cannot move any part of their body except their eyes, but their cognitive functions remain intact.

In the case of Buckelew, et al. v. Womack, the Fulton County State Court jury said ER physician Dr. Matthew Womack was 60% responsible and radiologist Dr. James Waldschmidt was 40% to blame. Of the $75 million, $29 million is for medical expenses and $46 million for non-economic damages.

Buckelew’s attorney, Shamp Silk’s Laura Shamp said miscommunication and hospital rule violations delayed diagnosing and treating his condition.

“The conversations that you heard evidence about lasted one minute; two minutes; 30 seconds,” Shamp said, according to CVN. “This — literally — life-threatening, important information was communicated in seconds, when there was a person that everyone acknowledges was very sick.”

Womack allegedly knew Buckelew was showing stroke symptoms but did not relay to neurologist Dr. Peter Futrell that he had had a chiropractic neck adjustment, which is a stroke risk, or properly communicate the imaging results. He later altered medical records to show that he had told Futrell this information after finding out Buckelew’s true condition, according to Shamp.

She also said that Waldschmidt admitted to not identifying the stroke from the images.

Womack’s attorney, Hall Booth Smith’s John Hall, argued his client properly ordered imaging and did tell Futrell and other staff members about Buckelew’s background.

Futrell’s attorney denied this, reiterating Shamp’s earlier claim that Womack had altered medical records.

Waldschmidt’s attorney, Huff Powell Bailey’s Scott Bailey, said evidence showed that his client read Buckelew’s imaging on the basis of identifying if an artery was torn and properly communicated this finding, which other providers could have linked to the stroke.

The jury cleared Futrell, physician assistant Christopher Nickum, and ICU nursing staff at Roswell of wrongdoing.

The defendants said that Buckelew’s stroke was so severe that the outcome would have been the same, regardless of when he was treated.

But Buckelew’s attorney, The Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell said expert testimony proves otherwise. “How many nerve cells died on their watch while Jonathan was in the hospital, not moving, not talking, but looking with terror in his eyes? How many brain cells died because they couldn’t get their act together and practice medicine like they should have.”

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