The Alabama Jury Verdict Reporter

Medical Negligence – An elderly woman died during surgery to correct a small bowel obstruction; her estate blamed her death on the medical team for failing to monitor the woman’s fluid levels and for misplacing a nasogastric tube

Estate of Watson v. Buck, et al., 03-983
Plaintiff: Michael A. Worel, Cunningham Bounds Yance Crowder & Brown, Mobile; and Robert R. Riley, Jr., Riley & Jackson, Birmingham
Defense: Joseph S. Miller and Alicia M. Harrison, Starnes & Atchison, LLP., Birmingham, for Dr. Buck; Charles P. Gaines, Gaines Gaines & Rasco, P.C., Talladega, for Dr. Starling and Anesthesia Resource Management; Crawford S. McGivaren, Jr. and Melanie M. Bass, Cabaniss Johnston Gardner Dumas & O’Neal, LLP., Birmingham, for St. Vincent’s Hospital
Verdict: $4,000,000 for plaintiff against Dr. Buck and St. Vincent’s Hospital; Defense verdict for Dr. Starling and Anesthesia Resource Management
Circuit: Jefferson, 6-22-07
Judge: Edward L. Ramsey

It was 1-5-02 when Mary Watson, age 74, was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jefferson County for treatment of a suspected small bowel obstruction. While there she came under the care of a surgeon, Dr. Gray Buck.

On 1-7-02, two days after her admission to the hospital, Dr. Buck performed surgery aimed at correcting Watson’s small bowel obstruction. Anesthesia would be provided by a medical team that included Dr. Stephen Starling, an employee of Anesthesia Resource Management.

The procedure did not go well. During the surgery, Watson’s fluid levels dropped. She soon went into hypovolemic shock and died.

Watson’s estate filed suit against a number of the participants in this tragedy.

However, the only defendants that remained by the time of trial were Drs. Buck and Starling, Anesthesia Resource Management, and St. Vincent’s Hospital.

According to plaintiff, defendants failed to monitor Watson’s fluid levels and allowed her volume to become depleted. They then failed to treat her hypovolemic shock properly.

Also, defendants incorrectly placed a nasogastric tube into Watson’s bronchus and then failed to timely recognize and correct the misplaced tube. Plaintiff identified a nursing expert in the person of Sharon VanRiper. Defendants denied their treatment deviated from the standard of care.

The case was tried in Birmingham and resulted in a mixed verdict. First, the jury exonerated Dr. Starling and Anesthesia Resource Management. Against Dr. Buck and St. Vincent’s Hospital, however, the jury found for plaintiff and awarded damages of $4,000,000. Because plaintiff was an estate, compensatory damages were not available, and the entire award was comprised of punitive damages.

The court entered a judgment that reflected the verdict. Post-trial, Dr. Buck and St. Vincent’s Hospital filed a motion for remittitur to $2,006,400 against Dr. Buck due to aspects of Dr. Buck’s financial condition that the record does not describe.

At the same time, the court denied the motion in all other respects. Thus, there would be no remittitur against St. Vincent’s Hospital. The hospital cried foul at this decision and argued that it effectively created two separate verdicts. The ultimate resolution of that issue was unclear from the record.