Jury awards Savannah woman $18 million in medical malpractice

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A Chatham County State Court jury on Tuesday awarded a Savannah woman $18 million in medical malpractice damages stemming from medical care that left her paralyzed.

The jury before Judge J. Hamrick Gnann Jr. awarded damages to Joan Simmons, 58, of $18 million proportioned between Southcoast Medical Group and Dr. Sarah Barbour and St. Joseph’s/Candler.

The plaintiff went to the Candler Hospital emergency room on July 28, 2014, and was admitted for treatment of acute illness, the suit filed by attorney Jeff Harris contended.  Barbour, an infectious disease physician then employed by Southcoast, was consulted to manage and treat the infection.

During her hospital stay, Simmons developed a severe central nervous system infection that involved her thoracic spine, the suit alleged. She was discharged from St. Joseph’s Hospital on Sept. 10, 2014, with a paralysis among other discharge diagnoses and to this day has no functional use of her legs and is confined to a wheelchair, the suit said.

The suit alleged that Southcoast and Barbour were negligent in failing to timely diagnose and properly treat Simmons’ spinal infection, which resulted in her being permanently disabled and in pain.

The suit also said the nursing personnel negligently failed to exercise the degree of care and skilled needed.

 Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s/Candler spokesman Scott Larson said Wednesday that, “St. Joseph’s/Candler was dismissed from the case prior to trial. We did not participate in the trial. As a result, we are not required to pay anything because of the verdict.”

Defense attorneys contended that Simmons appeared at the Candler emergency room on July 28, 2014, in dire medical condition and suffering from numerous serious and life-threatening illnesses.

By Aug. 3, 2014, her condition had improved to the point that she was transferred to the floor, but by Aug. 5, 2014, she told staff she could not move her legs, they contended.

She did not inform any physician that she was having pain at the site of her back infection, the defense said. They contended her treatment by Barbour was proper and complied with the standard of care.

Simmons was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital until Sept. 10, 2014, when she was discharged to a rehabilitation facility and has continued to receive rehab and treatment at in-patient facilities and as an outpatient, they said.