A Cobb jury awarded a Cherokee County man more than $3.2 million in a malpractice suit brought against Kennestone Hospital and WellStar Medical Group for the 2012 death of his wife.
In a statement emailed Tuesday afternoon, a WellStar spokesman wrote that the health group respects the jury process, but plans to appeal the verdict.
Michael Perez, an Atlanta-based attorney who represented Dennis McCombs in the case, said what should have been a routine hospital stay ended up killing his client’s wife.
According to Cobb State Court documents, Lorrie McCombs, a 49-year-old home health nurse, suffered several broken bones in a head-on collision in May 2012. She was transported to WellStar Kennestone Hospital where she underwent surgery to repair her injuries, which included seven broken ribs, a fractured ankle and internal injuries.
Following her surgeries, Kennestone doctors gave her three separate opioid prescriptions for pain — drugs that ultimately led to her death.
Records show doctors gave her morphine, hydrocodone and OxyContin, medications known for increasing the risk of respiratory failure.
“They were not monitoring her for signs of respiratory depression,” Perez said, noting Kennestone physicians didn’t have Lorrie McCombs on a monitor that measured her pulse.
On the third day of her hospital stay, he said, the woman slipped into respiratory failure after nurses failed to check in on her for three or four hours.
“It was not documented that the nurse had gone to see her and she essentially went into respiratory failure,” he said.
Lorrie McCombs was resuscitated, but suffered a brain injury as the result of her respiratory failure. She died Aug. 17, 2012, exactly three months after her crash.
“It was basically broken bones,” Perez said of the injuries McCombs suffered in the crash. “She had some rib fractures and a pretty bad ankle fracture. They patched all that up and she was only in ICU that first day. All the expectations were that she was going to recover, start doing physical therapy and be fine.”
The day before her respiratory failure, court documents show, she was seen by a respiratory therapist who identified her as “lethargic” and noted she had difficulty staying awake.
“Those signs were communicated to the nurse but there was no indication that anything was done,” Perez said.
Less than two hours later, McCombs’ sister, who was by her side, found her in full cardiac and respiratory arrest.
The lawsuit alleges that WellStar and the doctors who treated Lorrie McCombs should have known the risks associated with administering the prescription pain pills and that their negligence ultimately led to the woman’s death.
The jury agreed, siding with Dennis McCombs following the seven-day trial and awarding more than $3.2 million in damages for the wrongful death claim.
Perez said while he’s satisfied with the jury’s decision, nothing can bring back Lorrie McCombs.
“One of the things that wasn’t disputed at trial was that Lorrie McCombs was a woman who was just full of life,” Perez said. “That’s what was taken away from Dennis and that never can be brought back.”