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Hospital Settles Long-Delayed Wrongful Death Suit

Nov 19, 2002 | Athens Banner-Herald

It took seven years of delays and seven days of testimony before a settlement could be reached in a wrongful death suit against St. Mary's Health Care Systems and two doctors who worked at the Athens hospital.

On Tuesday afternoon, the defendants agreed to pay out an undisclosed sum to the family of the late Randy Wade, who died after going into cardiac arrest at St. Mary's Hospital in 1993.

''I think that the presentation of the evidence was such that the other side lost the certainty that they might win this case,'' said J. Vincent Cook, the Athens attorney representing Beatrice and Cynthia Wade, who filed suit in Clarke County Superior Court in 1995. ''In my opinion, it was a situation where they felt it was better to buy some certainty and reach a compromise than to risk it with a jury.''

Attorneys for the defendants declined to comment on the settlement.

Tom Fitz, CEO of St. Mary's Health Care Systems, released a one-sentence statement, saying ''We feel the case was resolved successfully.''

The Wade family alleged that emergency room doctor Jonathan Rubens failed to properly diagnose a heart condition when Randy Wade arrived at the hospital after experiencing chest pains.

They also said orthopedic physician Dr. David Arnold should have notified other doctors that Wade had been misdiagnosed as suffering from a non-fatal spinal cord condition.

But at least one juror, after hearing nearly seven days of testimony, felt the doctors and hospital should have been exonerated.

''Personally, I was leaning toward not guilty,'' juror Mark Magnuson said. ''From the totality of the evidence, I didn't feel the doctors were negligent in the performance of their duties.''

The case had lingered for years due to numerous delays. Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens was the third judge to preside over the case after two others recused themselves, and a party in the lawsuit, Randy Wade's father, died before it got to trial. Efforts at pre-trial mediation were fruitless.

By Clarke County standards, the civil trial was lengthy. Not until the last witness had finished testifying Tuesday afternoon did the two sides agree on a settlement.

Asked if the trial could have been avoided, Cook said, ''Yes. It probably should have been. But there were some factors beyond our control.''

Cook said he ''probably would have'' given the jury a monetary figure to consider awarding the Wades in his closing argument, but declined to specify an amount, citing the confidentiality conditions of the settlement.

Such settlements are routinely paid out by the hospital's and doctor's insurance carrier.

Before excusing the jurors, Stephens told them ''without your being here to hear this testimony, I feel certain this (settlement) would not have been reached.''

After listening to evidence for seven days, Magnuson was disappointed.

''I actually would have preferred to deliberate,'' the juror said.

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