Jury finds none liable in Hinson case

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The second trial stemming from the death of educator John G. Hinson concluded Monday with a civil jury finding Memorial Hospital and Dr. Paul J. Bennett not liable.

Hinson’s widow, Shelly Hinson, sued the hospital and Dr. Bennett after her husband died unexpectedly on June 12, 2007, after being admitted for kidney stones.

The first trial ended in a mistrial being declared on Aug. 28, 2009. Reportedly, a lone juror had held out in favor of the hospital during a two-day deliberation then. This time around, the result was essentially the opposite, as the jury deliberated for a little more than an hour after attorneys for both sides ended their closing arguments on Monday afternoon.

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Erik Olson, an Atlanta attorney who was the lead counsel for Mrs. Hinson, said the second trial’s jury had more connections to Memorial Hospital than the first one did, perhaps accounting for the different outcome. Olson said he conducted the second trial exactly as he did the first; the defense, on the other hand, presented two new expert witnesses.

The former principal at the Bainbridge High School-Performance Learning Center, Hinson was a well-liked educator. He left behind three young children and his wife, who has also worked as a local teacher. Mr. Hinson had also served as the attendance director for Decatur County schools.

Attorneys for both sides and a hospital representative said that despite the outcome, there was no question that Hinson was a good man who profoundly affected his community.

Joe Livingston, Hospital Authority chairman, said in a statement, that he still grieved for Hinson’s loss.

“I remember John’s father and Ron continues to be a role model for me,” Livingston said. “John and Ron Hinson will never leave Bainbridge; they belong to us. I will forever grieve for the Hinsons.”

Olson said Tuesday that Hinson “changed many, many lives in Decatur County” through his life and work.

“It was an absolute pleasure and an honor to represents Shelley Hinson and to represent the man whom John was,” Olson said.

Plaintiff’s case

The two trials largely centered around the medical care received by Mr. Hinson in the last few hours of his life. A lab technician found Mr. Hinson unresponsive and cyanotic at 4 a.m. on June 12, 2007. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Central to the trials was the cause of Mr. Hinson’s death. Mrs. Hinson and her attorneys alleged it was caused by an overdose of Dilaudid, or hydromorphone, a powerful opioid pain reliever.

Dr. Bennett had ordered the IV push for Hinson after he complained that he was in severe pain from the kidney stones and unable to get any rest, even after other pain medicine was given to him.

Hinson, at the order of Dr. Bennett, had received six 2-milligram dosages of Dilaudid by IV and at 3-milligram by IV five additional times, for a total of 28.5 mg.

“Dilaudid is a potent drug that is several times more powerful than morphine,” Olson said.

Olson said he was disappointed the jury was not allowed to learn about the existence of a memorandum distributed to Memorial Hospital about a week before Hinson was admitted. According to a motion previously filed by the plaintiffs, “In the June 5, 2007, Dilaudid Memo, the routine dosing guidelines call for Dilaudid 0.5 to 1 milligram IV every three hour PRN (when necessary) pain. Prior to John’s death, Bennett issued an order that called for John to receive Dilaudid 3 milligrams IV every hour PRN pain.”

Olson rejected a suggestion he said defense attorneys made concerning trace amounts of another painkiller, Darvocet, discovered during Hinson’s autopsy.

Olson said there was no basis in the evidence to indicate that Hinson took any other painkillers other than what hospital staff gave to him. Some time before his hospitalization, Dr. Bennett had prescribed Hinson pain medicine due to back problems he had developed from competitive weightlifting and football while in college, Olson said.

Defense’s case

The defense pointed to findings of Hinson’s autopsy and medical history that indicated he had severe heart disease and was obese to suggest that his death was an unfortunate accident, but not the fault of the hospital or his doctor.

“We believed the care rendered to Mr. Hinson was appropriate and met the appropriate required standards,” said Joseph P. Durham, an attorney for Langley and Lee of Albany, which represented the hospital. “The hospital’s standards are in accordance with the standards recognized around the United States.”

According to Durham, the defense’s most notable alteration of how it conducted the second trial was the calling of several additional witnesses. One was a pain management physician who testified concerning the standard of care related to administration of opioid drugs, including Dilaudid. Another expert witness was a nurse with more than 30 years experience who testified concerning the standard of care related to patient monitoring.

Olson, however, took issue with Hinson’s care.

“On the night that Mr. Hinson died, there were two registered nurses for 39 patients during the night shift,” Olson said. “The hospital had what we believe was insufficient staffing levels. However, they were able to spare about 20 employees to be in the courtroom for each day of the trial.”

Durham previously stated hospital nurses had interacted with Mr. Hinson on a regular basis that night and had monitored him closely after the IV was first given.

A nurse had testified she had replaced Hinson’s intravenous (IV) push, which contained the pain medicine Dilaudid, as he slept, without noting any issues. Another nurse testified that she had come in after and seen that the IV pouch was almost full. The hospital’s attorneys, including Durham, argued that had Mr. Hinson been suffering from respiratory depression, as was alleged by the plaintiff, that nurses would have noticed it.

Livingston said Monday that he was always confident that the facts of the case would support the hospital and its staff.

“I would like Bainbridge and Decatur County to know we are fortunate to have a good hospital, with dedicated nurses and staff,” he said. “This community is blessed to have excellent doctors.”