Our Clients are Our Heroes
By Rawls McNelis + Mitchell on July 10, 2015
Our firm recently resolved a case involving a forty year-old veteran who died while under the care of the Atlanta VA Medical Center. We were asked by the veteran’s mother and widow to represent them in a case where a cherished family member was taken needlessly and all too early. In the case, the veteran had sought care from the VA for depression and was scheduled to receive electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) as treatment for that condition. Immediately after undergoing his first ECT session, the veteran exhibited signs of respiratory distress. These breathing difficulties persisted for over 16 hours before the resident physician managing the veteran’s care finally made the decision to intubate (insert a breathing tube). However, the VA did not have qualified personnel on site when the intubation was ordered and, as a result, the veteran experienced significant oxygen deprivation for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes while waiting for an “on call” provider to come to the hospital. As a result of the delay, this young veteran suffered significant brain damage and died three days later. We accepted the case and litigated it on behalf of the veteran’s family members. The government zealously resisted providing any relief to the veteran’s family, filing repeated motions asking the Court to dismiss the widow’s lawsuit and refusing to make any settlement offers whatsoever. When it became clear that no reasonable government offer would be forthcoming, we unleased the full force of our litigation team on the case. We filed multiple motions (one spanning over one thousand pages of content) which, if granted, would have crippled the government’s defense. We traveled extensively to depose multiple witnesses, including government representatives of the VA itself, and were able to get several clear concessions of fault on the part of VA medical staff. After a lengthy and furious campaign of complex pretrial tactics which commanded even the attention of senior government lawyers, we were able to bring the government to the settlement table and achieve a one million dollar settlement for our clients. Our research (which is admittedly limited in scope) indicates that this is the largest wrongful death settlement paid by the federal government in this particular state in the past 5 years, and perhaps longer. We are proud of this result and wanted to share it with our readers because we believe justice was achieved. We read the comments people post in response to our blogs and have seen all too many in which veterans express that they were wronged by the VA and there is nothing that can be done to help them. To us, this case result shows it is possible to make the government answer for its employees’ wrongdoing if there is enough blood, sweat, and tears invested in the case. This case was a hard fought and long battle. Our clients were understandably frustrated, but they stuck with us throughout this lengthy and difficult process, finally concluding almost five years after it began with an administrative claim. For that we are very grateful. A million dollars does not replace a son and husband. I am fairly sure that that departed veteran would be very proud of how his mother and widow handled the repeated slaps in the face, the denials of wrongdoing, the prolonged reliving of the worst loss of their lives. We see this every day in many of our clients. That’s why our clients are our heroes, our friends, our reason for doing what we do.