Family Receives $30 Million Verdict in Malpractice Case Against Surgeon

According to Tuscaloosa News, a jury in Alabama returned a verdict of $30 million in a medical malpractice case against a surgeon at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

Johnny Sledge, age 24, was caught in the middle of a gunfight on December 27, 2013, in west Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was shot in the back and was rushed to the hospital but was left waiting in an emergency room while the on-call surgeon performed an elective surgery.

When Sledge arrived at the hospital around 2:15 PM on December 27th, he was alert and responsive. He was treated by the emergency room physician who recognized that Sledge needed surgery, however, he never had the opportunity to be evaluated by a surgeon.

According to Sledge’s attorneys, the physicians felt that an emergency abdominal surgery was needed to save his life as he had serious internal injuries from the gunshot wound. Dr. Bradley Bilton, the on-call trauma surgeon, was paged three times from 2:15 PM to 4 PM in attempts to retrieve him to perform the emergency surgery, however, Dr. Bilton responded that he was in surgery and said to “call someone else” and to “find a different surgeon”.

The staff at DCH claimed to have made several attempts to locate an available surgeon with no success, leaving Sledge to lay suffering in the emergency room for hours. After the third page to Bilton, the doctor responded that he had started a second elective surgery and should be transferred to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.

Johnny Sledge died in the emergency room waiting for a surgeon that never arrived.

According to Sledge’s attorney’s, Dr. Bilton wasn’t the only one to blame. They claimed that Sledge died as a result of “numerous errors and negligence in hospital policies and procedures for trauma calls”. The DCH Regional Medical Center policy allowed the on-call trauma surgeon the ability to schedule elective procedures during their on-call hours, a policy that could obviously interfere with a time-sensitive, emergency situation. In the policy, it states that the on-call trauma surgeon was responsible for locating another surgeon to take his place if a situation arose where they were unavailable in an emergency. This procedure was clearly not followed in this case, leaving DCH staff scrambling to find an unavailable replacement.

The lawsuit claimed that DCH was negligent for failing to comply with hospital rules and the surgery-on-call physicians’ schedule, in addition to not having a backup plan in place for occasions when an on-call surgeon was unavailable.

Five years later, a jury in Tuscaloosa County delivered a guilty verdict against Dr. Bradley Bilton, his practice group University Surgical Associates, P.C., Dr. George Nunn, DCH’s director of trauma services, and DCH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kenneth Aldridge.

The Tuscaloosa jury returned a record $30 million verdict, and although the family knows the money will not bring Johnny back, they hope it will send a message and prevent a situation like this from happening to anyone else.

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