Trial Guides wishes to congratulate James Haug and his trial team at Haug Barron Law Group on their recent $30 million medical malpractice lawsuit. James employed strategies from jury consultant Jesse Wilson, author of Witness Preparation: How to Tell The Winning Story, to reach this phenomenal verdict.
Case Type: Medical Malpractice
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: James Haug, Colin Barron, Daniel Moriarty, Evan Kline
Location: Dekalb County, Georgia
Injury: Perforated bowel leading to sepsis and death
Jury Verdict: $30 million
In this record-breaking medical malpractice case, the plaintiff and his wife suffered a traumatic car wreck on September 22, 2018. The wife suffered some seat belt abrasion on her lower abdomen, and went to the ER to get checked out. They sent her home after a cursory examination. Three days later, she returned to the hospital with a perforated bowel, which quickly led to sepsis. She succumbed to this excruciating condition just a few days later. She was 45 years old.
The perforated bowel was not the only thing missed by her ER doctors; it was later revealed that the decedent also had seven broken ribs, a fractured clavicle, and fractured back. The defense argued that they pressed on her belly and that she didn't say that she was in pain.
“[The decedent’s] medical issues absolutely should have required a full-trauma CT scan,” says James. “That was the crux of our case, but the defense fought us on this. We don't know exactly why they fought it so hard. This was a case that should have been settled.”
When the insurance company obstinance became apparent, James hired Jesse Wilson, jury consultant and author of Witness Preparation: How to Tell the Winning Story, whose work assisted with their deposition prep and trial framing strategy. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a fair settlement—$350,000 was their highest offer—the plaintiff team pushed forward with a trial on behalf of her husband.
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“Our voir dire was strong,” says James. The final juror picks included eleven women and one one man, largely due to strikes for cause. Jesse Wilson’s expertise helped the plaintiff’s team tell a compelling story to their jurors, which laid the groundwork for the success of their case.
In the opening, the plaintiffs told the jury that they were going to ask for $50 million. “We made no secret that we were going to ask for a bunch of money for her life and that we believed her life was that valuable,” explains James. Noteworthy about this case was the fact that the decedent was not working at the time; the plaintiff’s case was based solely on what her life was worth, absent any kind of economic value often assigned in cases involving lost wages or earning potential.
During the trial, there were a few moments where the plaintiff team was unsure of the outcome. “[The defendant’s] opening was strong,” says James. “They almost had me convinced that they had a better case than we did. If what they’d said was true—if they could have proven it—they would have won.”
After a 90-minute deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of $30 million: $10 million for pain and suffering, and $20 million for wrongful death. This puts this case among the ten largest medical malpractice cases in Georgia history.
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When pressed for final thoughts about winning medical malpractice cases, James suggests choosing cases wisely, reviewing case strategy (he used earlier work by David Ball and Rick Friedman), and keeping at it. “We put so much work into this case,” he continues “We've probably talked about this case every day for the last five years.” Their preparation allowed them to win a directed verdict before the case began; the defense couldn't mitigate damages by suggesting that the plaintiff come in sooner. (No one could know decisively when the necrotic tissue began to form, so there is a potential that she could have died at any point after her initial ER visit.) They could never suggest that she should have gone to the hospital sooner.
“I think the jury responded to us just being very truthful,” explains James. “Facts drive cases, and juries are excellent lie detectors. You can't really get away from the truth, no matter how persuasive you think you are. At the end of the day, you’ve got to have a good case; there are certain things you can't slip away from.”
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