A Beaufort County jury has awarded $7 million in damages to the family of a Chocowinity woman who died in June 1997 from blood clots that arose shortly after she switched from shots to pills for her birth control.
The May 23 verdict against the Greenville family medicine clinic that allegedly failed to diagnose and treat the woman’s condition came after nearly two weeks of trial in Beaufort County Superior Court.
The jury deliberated for 35 minutes.
A trial in the case two years ago ended with a hung jury, and a settlement was reached with the other defendants.
The woman, a 21-year-old wife and mother of a one-and-a-half year-old girl at the time of her death, had switched from Depo-Provera shots to Nordette 28 birth control pills in April 1997. The first 21 pills contain estrogen, and the last seven are placebos.
She had severe headaches that went away in late April before returning in early May, according to Wade E. Byrd , who represented the plaintiff along with fellow Fayetteville attorney Gerald F. Meek and Greensboro attorney Mark V.L. Gray.
After visiting a local hospital’s emergency room on May 8, 1997, with complaints of the “worst headaches she ever had,” the woman went to the Greenville family medicine clinic on June 9, 1997.
The clinic, where she had been going for the past year, documented her history of headaches and nausea, diarrhea, possible fever and slight dizziness, the plaintiffs contended.
The plaintiffs also alleged that a physician’s assistant noted, “Had same problem 1 mo. ago. No meds, ‘BCPs.’”
After examining her, the assistant prescribed Bactrim DS, Phenergan for nausea and Phrenilin for headache pain, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
“He treated her for something she didn’t have and ignored her chief complaint,” Byrd said.
According to the plaintiff, the birth control pills contained a warning that patients who reported persistent, recurrent or severe headaches should have birth control pills discontinued. The pills’ adverse reactions included cerebral thrombosis, or the formation of a clot inside a blood vessel.
“The problem was clotting in the brain a well-recognized problem with recent changes to birth-control pills containing estrogen,” Byrd said.
Two days after the visit to the Greenville clinic, the patient was taken by ambulance to the emergency room of the local hospital, complaining that she was “numb all over” with nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
Four hours after she was discharged from the hospital, her husband took her to a hospital in Greenville, where attendants noted that she was somnolent, difficult to arouse and unable to obey commands.
The next morning, a CT scan was ordered, and she was admitted to the intensive care unit. An MRI of her brain then showed blood clots, with her superior sagittal sinus vein completely occluded, and brain herniation, the plaintiffs claimed.
On June 14, the doctors conferred with her family and removed her from life support.
According to the plaintiffs, the autopsy showed the woman’s cause of death as recent thrombus of her superior sagittal sinus with bilateral acute cerebral infarcts associated with secondary thrombi of tributary veins.
Type of action: Medical malpractice
Injuries alleged: Wrongful death
Case name: Smith v. Jonas, et al.
Case number: 99-CVS-396
Court: Beaufort County Superior Court
Name of judge: Hon. Cy A. Grant
Verdict or settlement: Verdict (jury)
Verdict date: May 23, 2008
Amount: $7 million (prejudgment interest of an additional $5 million)
Insurer: Medical Protective
Plaintiff’s experts: Jessica S. Scott, M.D., family practice (Raleigh); William Ameen, M.D., family practice (Jamestown); Carl Allen, PA-C, physician’s assistant (Danville, Va.); Daniel J. Hanley, M.D., neuro-critical care (Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, Md.)
Plaintiff’s attorneys: Wade E. Byrd and Gerald F. “Jerry” Meek of Law Offices of Wade E. Byrd (Fayetteville); Mark V.L. Gray of Gray Legal Group (Greensboro)