Attorneys at Our Firm
Automobile Accident$4,200,000
Nursing Home Malpractice$2,200,000
River Street, Savannah
Railroad Crossing Accident$2,000,000
River Street, Savannah
Premises Liability$2,000,000
Talmadge Memorial Bridge
Medical Malpractice$1,600,000
Forsyth Park

The United States Government will pay $42 million to the parents of a young child who suffered a permanent brain injury, resulting from improper use of forceps during his delivery.  After a six day trial in Federal Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the verdict for $42 million was rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo.  The parents sued the Federal Government in a malpractice claim involving an Ob/Gyn physician, who was employed at a federal facility.  The lawsuit claimed that the doctor improperly used forceps on the baby’s head during the delivery, which caused skull fractures and bleeding on the brain that resulted in permanent brain damage.  Evidence presented during trial showed that the now five year old boy cannot speak, read or write and eventually will require a motorized wheelchair to get around.

This was what is known as a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case.  The FTCA is a federal statute that allows private parties to sue the United States in Federal Court for torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the Government.  For example, if a doctor or nurse employed by a Veterans Administration hospital or a hospital on a military base commits malpractice, the patient would need to bring a medical malpractice claim under the FTCA.  Other examples of potential negligence claims against the Government include someone injured in an auto accident involving a Government owned vehicle, and someone injured due to a fall caused by negligent maintenance in a post office or other Government-owned facility.

Suing the Government under the FTCA is different than suing a private company or individual.  There are a number of hoops that you have to jump through before you can even file the lawsuit. There are also certain limitations in lawsuits against the Government that you don’t have in lawsuits against private parties.  While you are entitled to a trial under the FTCA, it is a “bench trial,” meaning the judge renders the decision and not a jury.  Fortunately for the victims in the above-referenced malpractice case, the judge recognized the serious and permanent nature of the child’s injuries and the extraordinary expenses that would be required to provide for the child’s future medical and life care needs.

Dr. Paul Harnetty, an Ob/Gyn who practiced in Georgia from 2003 until 2012, was convicted last month by a Wyoming jury of sexually assaulting two of his female patients.  Harnetty began practicing medicine in Wyoming in 2012.  It did not take long before a number of his Wyoming patients accused him of sexual assault and abuse.  In February of 2016, a disciplinary complaint was filed against Dr. Harnetty by the governing medical board in Wyoming.  In January of 2017, Dr. Harnetty was arrested and charged with twelve counts of sexual assault, resulting in the recent conviction on two of those charges.  Dr. Harnetty awaits sentencing.

Sadly, there was a long trail of allegations against Harnetty while he was practicing Ob/Gyn medicine in Georgia.  Harnetty was investigated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board.  Nurses who had worked with the doctor reported to the Board that the doctor had committed highly unusual acts on patients while they were delivering babies.  The Medical Board never disciplined Harnetty publically and the Board’s investigation was kept confidential.  Dr. Harnetty gave up his hospital privileges at a Georgia hospital in 2010, but the hospital refused to say why.  As a result, Harnetty was able to leave the State of Georgia with a clear record and obtain a license to practice medicine in Wyoming.  The District Attorney in Wyoming who prosecuted Dr. Harnetty stated, “There had been red flags on this guy forever.”

Regrettably, the system in place that shields and protects doctors who are charged with sexual abuse of patients is broken.  The Georgia Board responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors refuses to comment on what it knew about Dr. Harnetty or whether he was ever disciplined by the Board.  Georgia law allows the Board to discipline doctors in private.  This is the so-called “code of silence.”  For example, the Georgia Board’s investigator had interviewed a labor and delivery nurse, who reported that she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment by Dr. Harnetty with the hospital in 2007.  The nurse reported that while in a patient’s room, Dr. Harnetty walked up beside her and grabbed the nurse’s bottom.  Other nurses also told the Board’s investigator about Harnetty touching them inappropriately, making lewd comments, and sexually harassing them.  If the Georgia Board did anything about these allegations, it was never made public.  Had the Georgia Board decided to discipline Dr. Harnetty publicly, the alleged sexual abuse that occurred in Wyoming may have been prevented.

Nursing-Home-Evacuation-300x169As anyone who lives in the coastal area of the southern United States knows, we have dealt with several major hurricane evacuations over the last couple of years that have forced residents out of their homes.  While these evacuations can be an ordeal for anyone, it is especially challenging to evacuate those vulnerable citizens who are residents of nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.  Though with proper planning, nursing homes can and should have a plan that protects their residents in the event of a mandatory hurricane evacuation.

Sadly, we saw a lack of preparation by nursing homes time and time again during the coverage of the major hurricanes of 2017.  For instance, ten elderly nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida died after being kept inside a facility that essentially turned into an oven when Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning for three days.  These residents were left inside the building, despite the fact there was a hospital with working electricity just across the street.

There were also horrifying images out of Texas during Hurricane Harvey that showed nursing home residents sitting in several feet of unsanitary flood water.  Luckily in the Texas case, the residents ultimately had a (somewhat) happy ending, as all 18 of those affected by the flood water were airlifted from the flooded La Vita Bella assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas, and subsequently relocated to other facilities across the state.  However, these residents should have never had to go through such a traumatic experience.

Physiomesh-300x223
Suthers Law Firm continues to investigate claims of those seriously injured by Ethicon Physiomesh, a device used in hernia repair procedures. A hernia is a bulge of body tissue that occurs through an opening within the abdominal wall muscles. A hernia, which can occur in any location on the abdominal wall, is caused by weakness or thinness of the abdominal wall, and is often repaired using surgical mesh, such as Ethicon Physiomesh.  Unfortunately, there have been numerous serious complications reported across the country associated with Ethicon’s Physiomesh product.

In May of 2016, Ethicon announced a global market withdrawal of the Physiomesh Flexible Composite Mesh product.  The removal of the mesh product from the market came after two European databases that showed Physiomesh was associated with higher rates of hernia recurrence and revisions compared to similar patches when used in laparoscopic ventral hernia repairs.

As of October 13, 2017, there were 116 lawsuits pending in the Multi-District Litigation (“MDL”) proceeding in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. MDL proceedings are meant to streamline and consolidate numerous cases filed against the same defendant.  These suits allege that the use of Ethicon’s Physiomesh in hernia repair procedures resulted in complications such as pain, infection, hernia recurrence, adhesion, intestinal blockage, mesh migration, mesh shrinkage, and the need for revision surgeries. There are also allegations of permanent internal organ damage as a result of complications associated with Physiomesh.

Hernia mesh is a medical device that is used to repair hernias, which occur when internal organs bulge out through a weak spot of muscle. The only way to permanently fix a hernia is with surgery. However, hernias often return and need another surgery. To reduce this risk, surgeons implant hernia mesh inside the body to reinforce weak tissue. Most of the mesh devices are made from synthetic materials like polypropylene, a kind of plastic.  Some type of hernia mesh product is used in more than half of all hernia surgeries in the United States.

Unfortunately, patients that have had a hernia repaired with mesh are experiencing a number of complications including:

  • Pain

All of us have been taught the importance of being personally responsible and accountable for our actions. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Bills that will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for citizens harmed by the wrongdoing of others to seek justice in our nation’s courts. Congress is proposing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. This so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (Bill H.R. 1215) will rig the system against individuals and tip the scales in favor of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and their insurance companies. These bills seek to prevent medical care providers who commit negligence from being held accountable for the injuries and damages they cause. Instead of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, such as nursing home residents, Congress is attempting to enact laws that will benefit only the corporations that run nursing homes and the companies that insure them.

Unfortunately, certain politicians, who are supported in large part by corporations and insurance companies, are proposing these laws that are designed to destroy your right to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligent acts and omissions.  If passed, the Bills proposed will radically change existing laws and radically limit citizens’ access to courts.  The proposed Bills include the following:

  1. A law designed to protect doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and medical device manufacturers by limiting compensation for injuries caused by their negligence to $250,000, regardless of how egregious their conduct was or how much the injury has devastated a victim’s life.

Our firm has been suing nursing homes since the 1990s.  In fact, Suthers Law Firm was one of the first firms in the United States to obtain a successful jury verdict against a nursing home for neglecting and abusing a resident.  When we first started accepting these cases in the 1990s, the two most common types of injuries that we saw recurring in nursing homes were pressure sores and fall-related injuries. Regrettably, 20 years later, these are still the two most common injuries we see in the nursing home setting.  Fall-related injuries significantly impact the lives of residents and their families.  Some of the more significant, life-altering injuries resulting from falls in nursing homes include hip fractures and subdural hematomas (brain bleeds).  When a resident falls in a nursing home and suffers a serious injury, it often causes, or contributes to the cause, of impairment, disability, and a decrease in enjoyment of life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact of falls on elderly individuals.  As many as 75% of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes sustain at least one fall yearly.  That is twice as much as the number of falls among older individuals living at home or within the community at large.  According to the CDC, as many as 20% of the falls that occur in nursing homes result in a serious injury.

In examining why falls occur in nursing homes, one must look at the patients’ risk factors as well as environmental factors.  Often, residents of nursing homes have medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, impairment from a prior stroke, diabetic neuropathy, and visual impairment, which can affect their balance and ability to walk.  Residents may also have conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that can affect their judgment.  These conditions place the residents at an increased risk of falling.  It is the nursing home’s duty to recognize these risk factors and take steps to prevent falls or lessen the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.  Nursing homes also have a duty to address any environmental hazards, such as clutter in the hallways, inadequate lighting, slippery floor surfaces, and lack of adequate safety equipment in rooms and bathrooms, in an effort to prevent falls.

A lawsuit brought by a number of homeowners who purchased new homes in Pooler, Georgia and Savannah, Georgia, alleges that bad concrete used in the construction of their homes has caused problems.  The concrete was poured and utilized in the foundations, slabs, footings, garages, driveways and patios, which are cracking and pitting, and giving off a very fine silicate dust.

One of the problems identified in the concrete mixture was an excessive percentage of fly ash, which is a material that is mixed with cement to form concrete.  Fly ash is a bi-product of burning coal.  Fly ash contains calcium, and its calcium content is an indicator of how well fly ash will perform when mixed into concrete.  Fly ash with higher calcium content, produced from burning lignite or sub-bituminous coal, is generally known as Class C fly ash.  However, excessive amounts of fly ash can cause the concrete to crumble and disintegrate.  This, in turn, can lead to a very fine silicate-like dust that can spread and pose a potential threat to the homeowners’ respiratory health.

A properly proportioned fly ash concrete mix can improve workability and increase the cohesiveness of concrete.  On the other hand, a badly proportioned concrete mix, such as one with too much fly ash or the wrong class fly ash, will not set and harden properly.  This can result in premature breakdown of a home’s foundations, footings, garages, driveways and patios.  The most troubling of these problems is when the home’s concrete foundation begins cracking and crumbling, because a foundation with a house built on top of it cannot be easily repaired or replaced.

On December 1st, jurors in Dallas Texas returned a verdict against Depuy Orthopedics for more than a billion dollars.  There were more thanDePuy Pinnacle 40 witnesses that testified during the 10 week trial. The jury deliberated for nearly eight hours before returning the verdict that awarded $32 million in actual damages and $1.009 billion in punitive damages.

The six plaintiffs involved in the trial suffered serious medical complications caused by defective metal-on-metal Depuy Pinnacle hip implants. The jurors found that DePuy Orthopaedic misled doctors and patients about the safety of its Pinnacle hip implant, and the device can deteriorate bone and tissue leading to severe pain and the need for revision surgery.

Depuy, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is still faced with more than 8,600 Pinnacle-related lawsuits, which have been consolidated in federal court in Texas.

A North Carolina company recently agreed to pay $3.75 million to a South Carolina couple who were rear-ended by a company truck while Tractor-trailer-Rear-ending-Passenger-Car2the truck driver was talking on his cell phone.  The company, Unify, Inc., is a yarn manufacturer that has 60 trucks traveling across U.S. highways.  At the time of the collision, Unify had a company policy allowing its drivers to use their cell phones for a maximum time period of two minutes while they were operating company trucks.  Lawyers for the injured couple contended the company’s policy promoted dangerous behavior, as Unify failed to enforce the policy.  The at-fault driver’s cell phone logs showed that he would routinely use his cell phone for periods as long as seven hours during an approximate eight hour driving shift.  Other evidence produced during the case showed that other Unify truck drivers also violated the company policy.

Often, it takes a significant settlement payment to cause companies to change the way they operate.  This case was no exception.  As a result of the collision and settlement reached in the case, Unify decided to change its policy and prohibit its truck drivers from using cell phones or other mobile devices while operating their trucks on the roadway.

In 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Association approved a new regulation that banned hand-held phone use by commercial vehicle drivers.  However, hands-free use of a cell phone, such as using a wireless Bluetooth device, is permitted.  The federal regulation is merely a minimum standard.  That does not mean that it is the best or safest standard.  Some trucking firms ban any cell phone use while their drivers are operating their trucks and have taken measures to enforce the rules.  For example, companies have installed cameras in the truck cabins, allowing them to monitor their drivers’ behavior while operating the trucks.