Defense begins in case against hospital over Katrina-related death

Alejandro de los Rios May 24, 2010, 1:52pm


Defense testimony got off to a rocky start Monday in a liability suit involving a patient who died in a New Orleans East hospital that had lost power during Hurricane Katrina.

Lamar Edwards is suing Methodist Hospital and its owner, United Health Services Inc. (UHS), on behalf of his deceased mother, Lorraine Edwards, who was recovering from a partial amputation of her leg when Katrina struck. Lorraine Edwards allegedly died after the hospital lost power and she had to be operated on under flashlights and then transported to Louis Armstrong International Airport, according to the complaint filed in Orleans Parish District Court.

Before testimony could begin, Judge Paulette Irons ruled in favor of the plaintiff's move to strike two defense witnesses who were nurses in the hospital at the time of Lorraine Edward's death. Defense attorney David Bowling of New Orleans said on the record that he had met with nurses before trial, which the plaintiffs argued was a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

New Orleans attorneys Val Exnicios, Jennifer Eagan and James Carte represent Lamar Edwards and Gregory Di Leo is representing Lorraine Edwards' estate.

Bowling, Kathryn Wasik, Ernest Gieger Jr., and Leah Taschek are representing UHS and Methodist Hospital.

Bowling said that he did not believe he made any violations by talking to nurses before trial. He said that plaintiffs had the same opportunity.

Plaintiffs argued that the defense had originally listed "dozens" of nurses on a witness list, making it impossible to compel discovery in the three months allotted by the court.

DiLeo also said that when he called one of the nurses, she refused to talk to him after having been interviewed by Bowling.

After Irons' ruling, the defense was able to call two witnesses to the stand. The first was Cameron Barr, the executive vice president of Methodist Health Services Foundation, which operated Methodist Hospital before it was purchased by UHS in 2004.

Barr had sent an email in 2002 to New Orleans health director, Dr. Kevin Stevens, that was a focal point of the plaintiff's testimony. The email indicated that Methodist Hospital was not equipped to withstand flooding up to 15 feet.

Bowling's questioning was the subject of multiple objections by the plaintiffs, which were sustained by Irons on the basis that they were leading. Eventually, Barr was able to explain that Methodist Hospital did nothing to correct the deficiencies pointed out in his letter because the letter was just a response to a "theoretical question" posed by Dr. Stevens. Despite estimating that it would cost $7.5 million to upgrade the facility, Barr testified that he did not inform anyone within UHS about the letter because he didn't believe that there were any deficiencies and because the hospital had never taken on water.

Randolph Evans, an expert in the fields of meteorology and tropical meteorology, followed Barr on the stand. Evans testified as to the nature of hurricane forecasting and talked about how neither the National Hurricane Service (NHS) nor the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted that Katrina would cause the devastation that it ultimately did.

In cross-examination, Exnicios got Evans to concede that, while no one specifically predicted that Katrina would cause a levee failure that flooded most of New Orleans, it was apparent in the days before making landfall that Katrina was a major hurricane that could cause catastrophic damage.

This case is set to resume May 25.

Orleans Parish Case 2006-09310

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