A jury in Horry County, South Carolina has awarded $1.5 million in actual damages on Thursday, October 20, 2016 to the Estate of Christopher Douton. Christopher Douton was a 41 year-old project engineer with S&ME, Inc. in Conway, South Carolina. On Friday, January 11, 2013, Douton returned to his Conway office to process soil samples from the Highway 701 Bridge Project where Douton was working as a soil and materials engineer. At about 4:30 p.m., Douton notified his co-workers that his left leg had suddenly gone numb and that he was experiencing excruciating pain.
Douton was taken by EMS to the Conway Medical Center where he was seen by an emergency room physician. Despite reporting 10/10 pain and numbness in this left leg to the triage nurse, the attending physician characterized Douton’s symptoms as moderate. Douton received only minimal testing, and was discharged with a diagnosis of a pinched nerve and leg pain. Douton was directed to follow up with an orthopedist after the weekend.
Douton returned home where he attempted to follow his discharge instructions. On the following afternoon, Douton’s pain and numbness in his left leg progressed to total numbness, and he was taken to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. It was immediately determined that Douton’s left leg was ischemic — or in the process of dying — as a result of an interruption to the blood flow. Medical personnel attempted to transfer Douton to both Duke and MUSC via helicopter, but heavy fog prevented flight. Douton was sent to MUSC via ambulance, but died en route.
Douton’s Estate provided expert testimony that simple and inexpensive testing would have led to a proper diagnosis had Douton been properly evaluated at Conway Medical Center. Although Douton was charged over $1,400 for his evaluation, a simple blood panel costing approximately $16.00 would have detected his life-threatening condition. Douton’s Estate also provided testimony of two surgeons that he would have had a 90% or greater chance of survival had he been properly diagnosed on Friday night.
The jury’s verdict was rendered against Conway Emergency Group, LLP, the for-profit medical group which is hired by Conway Medical Center (a non-profit hospital) to provide staffing services within the emergency department.
Scott C. Evans, one of the lawyers representing the estate, stated “Although the Defendant had skilled counsel who provided an excellent defense in a very complex case, I think the jury knew that the Defendant did not take this case seriously. The jury sacrificed a considerable amount of personal time to consider this complex case at a time in which many people in Horry County are trying to put their homes and their daily routines back together. However, not a single current employee, owner, or representative of Conway Emergency Group bothered to set foot in the courtroom at any point during the trial.”
The Estate of Christopher Douton was represented by Scott C. Evans and James B. Moore III of the Evans Moore Law Firm in Georgetown, South Carolina, and Jeffrey C. Chandler of the Chandler Law Firm in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Conway Emergency Group was represented by Jack B. McCutcheon and Ashley Gwin of the Thompson & Henry Law Firm in Conway.