A Williamson County jury on Wednesday awarded a record $8.5 million wrongful-death verdict to the wife of a 60-year-old Marion man who died during elective shoulder surgery.
Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion earlier this week admitted that it was liable for the death of Lowell Williamson.
Williamson died a week after hospital employees allegedly administered too much of an anesthetic gas known as Sevoflurane to him. The gas caused Williamson’s blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels, cutting off the flow of oxygen to his body.
The drugs the medical staff would use to raise a patient’s blood pressure, however, had no effect on Williamson because he had taken Losartan, a blood pressure medication, earlier that morning. They knew Williamson had taken Losartan and went ahead with the surgery, alleged Bradley M. Cosgrove, a partner at Clifford Law Offices.
Cosgrove represented plaintiff Marianne Williamson, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her late husband.
“Because he took Losartan that morning, he should not have had surgery at all,” Cosgrove said.
The hospital’s admission that it was liable for Williamson’s death occurred just before the case was set to go to trial Monday before a Williamson County jury. Cosgrove called the admission a “tactical decision” the hospital undertook in order to reduce the size of the jury verdict. But it also precluded the jury from hearing the facts of the case, he added.
“It was a tactical decision, so the jury wouldn’t hear the full story of what happened to Lowell Williamson,” Cosgrove said.
Prior to Wednesday’s verdict, the largest verdict or settlement reported out of Williamson County was a $2.9 million settlement involving a birth injury, said John L. Kirkton, editor of Jury Verdict Reporter, a Law Bulletin Media publication.
That settlement, reported by Jury Verdict Reporter in February 2012, involved a hospital that allegedly mishandled the case of a premature baby, resulting in near-total blindness.
Williamson scheduled the surgery on Aug. 12, 2013, because he was experiencing pain in his shoulder due to arthritis. As Williamson suffered from low blood pressure and hypoxia, the medical call was unable to reach the on-call anesthesiologist. She didn’t respond for 55 minutes, saying later that she was responding to another emergency.
However, the plaintiff alleged they received hospital records showing there was no other emergency happening at the time.
Heartland, also known as Marion Hospital Corp., was represented by Richard J. Behr and Stacy G. Jackson of Behr, McCarter & Potter P.C. in Clayton, Mo.
Defendant Danuta Gwarnicka, an anesthesiologist, was represented by Adrian E. Harless of Heyl, Royster Voelker & Allen in Springfield.
Defendant Mary J. Bigongiari, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, was represented by Jeffrey Glass and Madelyn J. Lamb of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Belleville.
They did not return requests for comment.
Defendant Anesthesia Associates of Southern Illinois LLC, also known as Dr. Roodman and Associates, was represented by Shane M. Moskop and Ted W. Dennis of Freeark, Harvey, Mendillo P.C. in Belleville. Moskop declined to comment.
The plaintiff was also represented by Charles Haskins of Clifford Law Offices and Mark Prince of the Prince Law Firm in Marion.
The case is Marianne Williamson, et al., v. Marion Hospital Corp., et al., No. 14 L 86