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Supreme Court Heading to Mercer Law

Chief Justice Harold Melton, Supreme Court of Georgia

Chief Justice Harold Melton, Supreme Court of Georgia (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

The Georgia Supreme Court will hold oral arguments at Mercer University School of Law in Macon Friday in the Bell-Jones Courtroom, beginning at 10 a.m.

The event is one of a few sessions each year when the high court travels outside Atlanta to hear cases for the stated purpose of making the court’s business and the judicial process more accessible to the public. The justices will hear appeals from a medical malpractice trial and a murder conviction.

Rockdale Hospital is seeking reversal of a Georgia Court of Appeals decision ordering a new trial in a medical malpractice case. In January 2012, 60-year-old Janice Evans woke up one night with what she described as the worst headache of her life, and she was sick to her stomach. She thought it was food poisoning. After two days of this, her husband took her to Rockdale’s emergency room. The triage nurse failed to document the initial complaint of headache, according to the court’s summary. The nurse did document her extremely high blood pressure, which can also signify bleeding on the brain. She was sent home with instructions to follow up with her primary care physician. Her husband made the first available appointment for six days later. Her problems continued until suddenly she couldn’t get up. She returned in an ambulance to the ER, where a CT scan showed a blood clot in her brain. She was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where further testing showed she had suffered several strokes as a result of a ruptured brain aneurysm. She is now permanently and totally disabled, requires a feeding tube, cannot speak and requires 24-hour care.

A DeKalb County jury awarded the amount her lawyers requested for medical expenses, $1.2 million, but nothing for future medical expenses, lost wages or pain and suffering. The jury awarded her husband $67,000 for pain and suffering. And the jury apportioned 49 percent of the fault to her, reducing her recovery.

The Court of Appeals set aside the verdict and ordered a new trial, finding that the award of zero damages for Evans’ 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.”

The hospital is being defended by Daniel Huff, R. Page Powell Jr. and Sharonda Barnes of Huff Powell Bailey. Janice and Shawn Evans are represented by Leighton Moore, Lawrence Schlachter, Lloyd Bell and James Wilson Jr.

In the murder case, Robert Mitchum is appealing a Bryan County court’s denial of his motion for a new trial, alleging that prosecutors had improper communication with the jury, according to the court's summary.

Mitchum’s attorneys are Sarah Gerwig-Moore of the Mercer Habeas Project, Meagan Hurley, E. Addison Gantt and Matthew Gilbo. On the state’s side are District Attorney J. Thomas Durden Jr., Assistant DA Billy Nelson Jr., Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, Deputy AG Beth Burton and Senior Assistant AG Paula Smith.