EVANS et al.
ROCKDALE HOSPITAL, LLC. No. A18A0233
BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and REESE, JJ.
BARNES, PRESIDING JUDGE.
G. Evans, individually and as the guardian of his wife,
Janice K. Evans, brought this medical malpractice action
against Rockdale Hospital, LLC d/b/a Rockdale Medical Center
("Rockdale") and other defendants after Mrs. Evans
suffered catastrophic injuries from an undiagnosed ruptured
aneurysm. Following a trial, the jury returned a special
verdict finding Rockdale 51 percent at fault and Mrs. Evans
49 percent at fault. The jury awarded Mrs. Evans damages for
her past medical expenses, but zero damages for future
medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and past and
future pain and suffering. The plaintiffs filed a motion for
additur or, alternatively, for a new trial on damages, which
the trial court denied, resulting in this appeal.
reasons discussed below, we conclude that the jury's
award of zero damages for Mrs. Evans's past pain and
suffering rendered the award of damages so clearly inadequate
under a preponderance of the evidence as to shock the
conscience and necessitate a new trial under OCGA §
51-12-12 (b). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's
denial of the plaintiffs' motion. However, because this
case involves issues of comparative negligence, the retrial
on remand cannot be limited to the issue of damages and
instead must encompass all issues.
a jury trial, we view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the verdict. Intl. Images v. Smith, 171
Ga.App. 172, 172 (318 S.E.2d 711) (1984). So viewed, the
evidence showed that on the night of Saturday, January 14,
2012, Mrs. Evans, who was 60 years old, woke up with the
worst headache that she had ever experienced, jumped out of
bed, and vomited on herself. She then had episodes of
vomiting and diarrhea throughout the night. Mrs. Evans
believed that she was suffering from food poisoning and had
become dehydrated. However, a severe "thunderclap"
headache, commonly described by patients as the worst
headache in their life, followed by vomiting and nausea, are
common symptoms associated with bleeding in the brain.
Evans's symptoms did not subside over the next two days,
and around 8:00 p.m. on Monday, January 16, 2012, Mr. Evans,
her husband, drove her to the Rockdale emergency room. After
arriving there, Mrs. Evans complained of dehydration,
headache, diarrhea, and nausea, and she told the nursing
staff that she might have food poisoning from a local
restaurant. The triage nurse failed to document Mrs.
Evans's initial complaint of headache in the medical
chart and chose the charting template on the computer for
digestive system illnesses, which remained the template used
by the nursing staff throughout Mrs. Evans's stay in the
triage nurse documented Mrs. Evans's initial blood
pressure as 213/105, a blood pressure within the American
Heart Association's guidelines for hypertensive crisis.
All of the blood pressure readings subsequently taken by the
emergency room nursing staff reflected that Mrs. Evans had a
continued systolic blood pressure of over 200, which is
"extremely high" and also can be a sign of bleeding
in the brain. Additionally, Mrs. Evans requested medication
for a severe throbbing headache, which she described as an 8
out of 10 on the hospital pain scale. Despite her complaint
of a severe headache and high blood pressure, the nursing
staff did not ask Mrs. Evans focused questions about her
headache and thus did not learn from her and document in the
medical chart that her initial onset of symptoms had involved
her waking up with the most severe headache of her life.
Evans was diagnosed with high blood pressure, nausea, and
vomiting, with no specific cause identified. The emergency
room physician told Mrs. Evans that he was concerned about
her high blood pressure and that she needed to see her
primary care physician that week. Mrs. Evans was discharged
from the emergency room in the early morning hours of January
17, 2012, and was instructed to return if her condition
Mrs. Evans was discharged, Mr. Evans called a local primary
care practice and made Mrs. Evans an appointment for the
following Monday, the first available appointment. Mrs.
Evans's severe headache and vomiting returned after she
was discharged, and she continued to have those symptoms
throughout the week. She fell several times during the week
and had to crawl back to bed on at least one occasion. On
January 22, 2012, Mr. Evans called 911 after Mrs. Evans began
moving her mouth unnaturally while eating and was unable to
get up from the couch.
Evans was transported by ambulance to the Rockdale emergency
room, where a CT scan showed a blood clot in her brain. She
was transferred to Emory Hospital, and further testing
revealed that she had suffered several strokes as a result of
a ruptured brain aneurysm. Mrs. Evans underwent multiple
surgeries and spent months in the hospital and a
rehabilitation facility. She is permanently and totally
disabled, is incontinent, requires a feeding tube, cannot
speak, has severe cognitive and other impairments, has a
seizure disorder, and requires 24-hour care.
August 2013, Mr. Evans, individually and as guardian of Mrs.
Evans, sued Rockdale for medical malpractice and loss of
consortium. During the trial, the parties disputed
whether Mrs. Evans suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm
when she presented at the emergency room on January 16, 2012,
whether a diagnosis of a ruptured aneurysm on that date would
have led to a better outcome, and whether the Rockdale
emergency room nurses violated the standard of care. Rockdale
also argued that Mrs. Evans's fault exceeded that of
Rockdale because, among other things, she had not obtained
treatment for her longstanding, uncontrolled hypertension
despite being aware of that condition.
damages, the plaintiffs presented medical billing records
reflecting that Mrs. Evans's total past medical expenses
were $1, 196, 288.97, as well as testimony regarding the
procedures and rehabilitation that she had to undergo after
the ruptured aneurysm up to the point of trial. The
plaintiffs also presented evidence of future medical
expenses, past and future lost wages, and of Mrs. Evans's
current impaired condition requiring 24-hour care. Mr. Evans
and a certified nurse's aide testified to the care that
had to be provided to Mrs. Evans, and the jury was shown a
day-in-the-life video reflecting the care provided by Mr.
Evans and the nurse's aide.
did not contest that Mrs. Evans was catastrophically injured
and did not address the issue of damages during closing
argument. During the cross-examination of the plaintiffs'
damages experts who opined on Mrs. Evans's lost wages and
future medical expenses, Rockdale did challenge the
experts' credibility and the extent of the damages sought
for future medical expenses.
its deliberations, the jury returned its verdict on a special
verdict form. In Section 1 of the verdict form, the jury
awarded Mrs. Evans the amount she had requested in damages
for past medical expenses ($1, 196, 288.97), but awarded her
zero damages for future medical expenses, zero damages for
past and future lost wages, and zero damages for past and
future pain and suffering. The jury awarded Mr. Evans $67,
555 in damages for loss of consortium. In Section 2 of the
verdict form, the jury apportioned fault among the parties,
finding that Rockdale was 51 percent at fault and that Mrs.
Evans was 49 percent at fault. The trial court reduced the
amount of damages awarded by the jury in proportion to the
percentages of fault and entered judgment in favor of the
plaintiffs and against Rockdale in the amount of $586, 191.60
for past medical expenses and $33, 101.95 for loss of
plaintiffs filed a motion for additur or for a new trial on
the ground that the jury's award of damages against
Rockdale was so clearly inadequate as to be inconsistent with
the preponderance of the evidence. The plaintiffs contended
that any new trial ordered by the trial court should be
limited to the issue of damages. Rockdale opposed the motion,
contending that the jury's damages award should not be
disturbed and that any retrial could not be limited to the
issue of damages because the case involved comparative
negligence. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the
plaintiffs' motion for additur or a new trial on damages,
resulting in this appeal.
outset, we note that the plaintiffs' motion seeking a new
trial as a result of inadequate damages is governed by ...