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Brain damage was due to delay in treatment, plaintiff alleged








Muscogee County


Muscogee County, State Court

Injury Type(s):

brain-brain damage; sensory/speech-blindness, total;
pulmonary/respiratory-respiratory distress

Case Type:

Medical Malpractice – Failure to Treat, Delayed Treatment

Case Name:

Sandra Williams and Phillip Williams v. St. Francis Hospital, Erik Westerlund, and Christopher Tidwell,
No. SC14-CV884


December 11, 2017



Sandra Williams (Female, 53 Years), 

Phillip Williams

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Lloyd N. Bell;
Bell Law Firm;
Sandra Williams, Phillip Williams ■ Darren Summerville;
The Summerville Firm, LLC;
Sandra Williams, Phillip Williams ■ Lawrence B. Schlachter JD, M.D.;
Schlachter Law Firm;
Sandra Williams, Phillip Williams

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Bruce Seaman; Ph.D.; Economics; Atlanta,
GA called by:
Lloyd N. Bell, Darren Summerville, Lawrence B. Schlachter JD, M.D. ■ Kalman Blumberg; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Fort Lauderdale,
FL called by:
Lloyd N. Bell, Darren Summerville, Lawrence B. Schlachter JD, M.D. ■ Lesley Wright; Life Care Planning; Woodstock,
GA called by:
Lloyd N. Bell, Darren Summerville, Lawrence B. Schlachter JD, M.D. ■ Matthew Schlossberg; M.D.; Anesthesiology; Norfolk,
VA called by:
Lloyd N. Bell, Darren Summerville, Lawrence B. Schlachter JD, M.D.


Erik Westerlund, 

Christopher Tidwell, 

St. Francis Hospital

Defense Attorney(s):

None reported;
Erik Westerlund ■ Paul E. Weathington;
Weathington McGrew Attorneys at Law;
Christopher Tidwell ■ Tracy M. Baker;
Weathington McGrew;
Christopher Tidwell ■ Gregory S. Ellington;
Hall Booth Smith, P.C.;
Christopher Tidwell ■ Roger S. Sumrall;
Weathington McGrew Attorneys at Law;
St. Francis Hospital

Defendant Expert(s):

Jesse Hall;
IL called by:
Paul E. Weathington, Tracy M. Baker, Gregory S. Ellington ■ Christopher Brown;
Orthopedic Surgery;
NC called by:
Roger S. Sumrall


Zurich North America for St. Francis Hospital (primary insurer);
Ironshore Specialty Insurance Co. for St. Francis Hospital (excess)


On Oct. 20, 2012, plaintiff Sandra Williams, 53, an administrative assistant, presented to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus with complaints of inability to breathe and swallow, as well as pain in her neck due to a neck hematoma. Three days earlier, she had undergone revision surgery for a previous anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. The on-call orthopedic surgeon on October 20 was Erik Westerlund, M.D. Westerlund admitted Williams to the ICU from the emergency room. Williams subsequently suffered respiratory failure that left her blind and brain damaged. Williams sued St. Francis Hospital, Westerlund and pulmonologist Christopher Tidwell for medical malpractice. Williams alleged that St. Francis Hospital was vicariously liable for the negligence of Westerlund and Tidwell, who were employees/agents of the hospital at the time. Prior to trial, Westerlund settled with Williams for terms that were not disclosed. The trial proceeded against St. Francis Hospital and Tidwell only. Williams alleged that Tidwell, hospital staff and Westerlund failed to properly treat her post-op neck hematoma/blood clot, which compressed her trachea and closed off her airway. Williams alleged that critical delays in CT imaging and examination resulted in a botched intubation that deprived her of vital oxygen to her brain. Williams had arrived at the ER at 5:00 a.m. Westerlund admitted her to the ICU from the ER at 5:30 a.m. Williams alleged that Westerlund did not return to observe her until about noon, which was a violation of hospital policy that required the admitting physician to see the patient within two hours of admission. Williams’ anesthesiology and orthopedic surgery experts opined that Williams would not have suffered respiratory distress and brain damage had she been sent to the hospital’s operating suite for intubation under anesthesia in a timely manner. They opined that Williams was already in critical condition because of the hospital’s negligence by the time she was seen by Tidwell and hospital staff. They further opined that the hospital should have waited for the on-call anesthesiologist to arrive before attempting intubation. According to the experts, Tidwell should not have administered sedation to Williams, failed to take Williams’ condition into account to properly intubate her and his bedside sedation of her aggravated the respiratory distress. Tidwell claimed he was called into a crisis and, under the circumstances, his care and treatment of Williams was appropriate. He noted that it was a Saturday morning and he had no way of knowing when help would arrive. He claimed he was called twice by nursing staff at the hospital at approximately noon on Oct. 20, 2012, to help protect Williams’ airway. He claimed the first call was routine and the second call was a “come now” call. He claimed that when he was called to the ICU to see Williams, she was not his patient at that point. He contended that he arrived to find Williams in airway crisis due to a large hematoma and swelling in her neck from the surgery done three days earlier. Tidwell argued that the anatomy of Williams’ neck was too badly distorted from swelling to attempt a tracheotomy and he attempted a bedside intubation using a direct laryngoscope. He claimed he was unable to obtain an airway due to the swelling and anatomic distortion. Tidwell’s medical expert opined that Tidwell arrived in a situation in which there were only a few seconds to a few minutes for Williams to live before she would stop breathing. St. Francis Hospital argued that its staff monitored Williams appropriately and that an earlier intubation was not appropriate due to her condition at the time. St. Francis argued that medical records indicated that Williams showed no signs of respiratory distress for several hours following her admission. St. Francis’ medical expert opined that Westerlund’s care and treatment of Williams was appropriate. He opined that Westerlund took proper action when the patient’s condition worsened.


Williams suffered blindness and brain damage, confining her to a wheelchair. She claimed she was very active prior to the incident, participating in many physical and sporting activities, including jogging. Williams sought damages for past and future medicals; past and future pain and suffering; and past and future loss of earnings. Her husband, Phillip Williams, joined the action on a consortium claim. However, Phillip Williams died of cancer before trial and his claim was dismissed. Williams’ counsel suggested the jury award $42 million in damages.


The jury found no negligence on the part of Tidwell, but determined that St. Francis Hospital was liable for the negligence of Westerlund. The jury determined that Williams’ damages totaled $26 million.

Trial Information:


Benjamin Richardson


$22,500,000 (prior to the trial)


$5,000,000 (during the trial)

Trial Length:


Trial Deliberations:


Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel and defense counsel for Christopher Tidwell. Defense counsel for St. Francis Hospital did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.