A jury in Valdosta awarded $1.8 million in a medical malpractice case against a local orthopedic surgeon for a man whose leg had to be amputated after an operation to repair a broken ankle. The case, tried before Lowndes County Superior Court Judge Frank Horkan, is Childress v. Kendrick, No. 2012-CV-2346.
A Severe Accident
The plaintiff was Zan Childress, who severely injured his ankle when his truck ran off the road and flipped over in December 2010. He was trapped inside, hanging upside down by his left ankle—wedged between the floor and a wall of the cab for an hour until rescue workers freed him. The surgeon who first operated on the ankle, Dr. John Kendrick, did so only 20 hours after the accident. The doctor should have waited five to seven days for the swelling to resolve around the crushed bone.
Childress initiated a lawsuit against the surgeon, Dr. John Kendrick, and the practice group Valdosta Orthopedic Associates, represented by attorney Robb Howell. The lawsuit contended the surgery was done too soon. Because the operation was too soon, the lawsuit claimed, later swelling caused the wound to open, preventing healing and leading to infection.
Attempted Fixes Unsuccessful
In January 2011, Childress turned to a new doctor, who performed eight subsequent surgeries to attempt to repair the ankle and cover the wound and exposed bone with skin grafts. It didn’t work, and in November 2011, Childress’ leg was amputated below the knee. He was 32.
Skillful Legal Strategy
The litigation strategy included using a model of a human foot and ankle—combined with photos of their client’s injuries—to show the jury what went wrong after the initial surgery. Howell told the jury about the plaintiff’s medical expenses as well as lost wages from the time Childress couldn’t work and the pay cut he took when he did return to a new, lower-paying job.
To set a value for the loss of a leg, they used images of experiences Childress will never be able to have with his two young sons: playing football in the yard, kneeling to catch their baseball pitches, teaching them to ride a bicycle and running alongside, climbing into a deer stand when they learn to hunt.
Howell said, “As far as I can tell from talking to local court personnel—some of whom have been there forever—we believe this is the highest personal injury verdict in Lowndes County. It’s certainly the highest medical malpractice verdict.”