Judge disqualifies WellStar defense in suit
by John Roach
September 08, 2012 01:06 AM | 7688 views | 5 5 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — A Cobb County judge on Thursday disqualified WellStar’s defense in a medical malpractice lawsuit and issued a default judgment for the plaintiff, ruling that attorneys representing the health system intimidated a witness.

Pamela Kemp was suing WellStar for medical malpractice, alleging that doctors gave her 64-year-old husband medicine when he was admitted to WellStar Douglas Hospital in Douglasville in 2009 for shortness of breath related to chronic emphysema but did not take into account the two packs of cigarettes and six beers he consumed daily. The medicine caused respiratory failure and brain damage and ultimately led to his death, the suit alleges.

According to Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs’ order, Kemp’s attorney Gary Bunch secured as an expert witness Dr. William Stinnette, a Northside Hospital employee. When WellStar’s attorney, David Sapp, learned that Stinnette would be testifying, his partner, Henry Green Jr., contacted Northside’s general counsel Susan Sommers, who is also Stinnette’s boss.

Sapp argued that Sommers was contacted only as a professional courtesy, but evidence revealed that Sommers threatened Stinnette’s job if he testified, according to Grubbs’ order.

“As a result of Mr. Green’s call, Ms. Sommers, later that day, telephoned Dr. Stinnette, who promptly returned her call … Ms. Sommers told Dr. Stinnette that Wellstar Hospital had telephoned her very, very upset, indeed enraged, about him testifying in the Kemp case and did not want him to be an expert in the case. …

“Ms. Sommers, in an ominous tone, which Dr. Stinnette had never heard in prior conversations with Ms. Sommers, expressed extreme displeasure to Dr. Stinnette about him testifying for Plaintiff and referred to his contract with Northside hospital. … Ms. Sommers’ statements, and the ominous tone in which she spoke, caused Dr. Stinnette to believe that his job at Northside Hospital would be at risk if he continued as an expert witness.”

Stinnette, fearful of losing his job and being blackballed in the medical community, then refused to be a witness for the plaintiff, according to the ruling.

Internal emails obtained from Sapp’s law firm during the case showed that attorneys assumed that Stinnette would not be testifying after Sommers talked to him.

“Do you think that is a bluff, and that Dr. Stinnette has heeded Sue’s suggestion that he not continue as an expert on that case,” one of the firm’s associates, Austin Gillis, wrote to Sapp on March 14.

“Sue Sommers has made it clear that Stinnette is not going to be a factor,” Sapp wrote to Gillis later that day.

Grubbs said it would be too difficult for the plaintiff to secure another expert witness, ruling that WellStar’s attorney had destroyed Kemp’s ability to make a case.

Grubbs said that because Sapp was the lead attorney in the lawsuit, not Green, it could not be argued that he was doing background research into Stinnette.

Though WellStar dismissed Sapp and hired a new attorney from his firm, they could not distance themselves from his actions. Grubbs wrote that Stinnette testified credibly that a preceding witness told him WellStar was upset at Northside because he was testifying. Evidence also showed that WellStar was aware that Sapp and Green were acting in bad faith, she wrote.

Both Bunch and WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster declined to comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.
Comments
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j. Long
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October 21, 2012
Know the facts of why the patient died-everyone so quick to go after the $$$$ and everyones job! Take responsibilty for yourself!
Concerned Citizen
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September 09, 2012
Wonder how many other plaintiffs have lost cases because of these attorneys tampering with witnesses? The Georgia Bar must take action! These attorneys should never be allowed to represent the interests of another hospital or anyone else and interfere with the justice system.
VFP42
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September 08, 2012
That's our Wellstar! Why do we let these thugs continue to hold our health hostage? We deserve better than what our free market produced for us.
AP21
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September 09, 2012
Really? You want to blame Wellstar? And not the idiot smoking two packs of cigarettes and six beers he consumed daily. My gawd, people are always looking to blame someone else. Where the hell did responsibility for one's own actions go?
SouthernGal
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September 09, 2012
AP21....the Dr. knew about the patients habits...and should have treated him accordingly.

The attorneys were wrong...and should be brought before the BAR!
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