Jury reaches $26 million verdict against St. Francis Hospital

Muscogee County State Court jury reached a $26 million verdict Monday morning against St. Francis Hospital and one of its physicians in a medical malpractice suit brought by a Columbus woman who was permanently injured after a 2012 procedure.

The jury awarded Sandra Williams and her late husband Phillip the verdict after a two-week trial in front of Judge Ben Richardson.

The jury assessed 100-percent of the liability for the verdict on St. Francis Hospital and its employee, Dr. Erik Westerlund, who settled for an undisclosed amount of personal liability prior to the trial. The jury also ruled in favor of Columbus pulmonologist Dr. Christopher Tidwell, finding he had no fault in Sandra Williams’ injuries.

Sandra Williams had neck surgery at St. Francis Hospital in October 2012. The surgery was performed by Dr. Thomas R. Walsh. Three days later, she went to the St. Francis Emergency Room complaining of an inability to breathe and swallow, as well as pain in her neck.

Westerlund admitted her to the hospital from the E.R. at 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 20. He did not see her until about noon, according to testimony, which was a violation of a hospital policy requiring the admitting physician to see the patient within two hours.

The injuries by Williams included blindness, brain damage and confinement to a wheelchair. She sat through the entire trial next to her attorney, Lloyd N. Bell of Atlanta. She was also represented by Dr. Lawrence B. Schlachter, an attorney and medical doctor from Roswell.

Williams and her husband, who died in 2015, filed suit against St. Francis and multiple doctors, nurses and physician assistants in 2014. A number of the defendants were dismissed from the case by Richardson and Judge Andy Prather, who originally had the suit.

Westerlund was the only defendant who settled individually. The terms of that settlement are confidential and have not been disclosed.

By the time the case reached trial, the only defendants left were the hospital and Tidwell, who had performed an emergency medical procedure on Williams after she was admitted by Westerlund. Tidwell was represented by Paul E. Weathington and Tracy Baker of Atlanta and Greg Ellington of Columbus. St. Francis was represented by Roger Sumrall of Atlanta.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams