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Appeals Court verdict upholds jury’s verdict finding Burlington doc not liable for allegedly botched surgery

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The state’s second-highest court has rejected an appeal filed by the executrix for the estate of a former Burlington resident seeking to overturn an Alamance County jury’s verdict finding a vascular surgeon in Burlington not liable for medical negligence at the close of a trial in April 2018.

The plaintiff in the case, Debbie Thompson Hampton, sued the surgeon, Dr. Andrew Hearn; his practice in Burlington; another doctor who worked for him; and Alamance Regional Medical Center in 2014, claiming medical negligence during a stent procedure in 2011 had left Beatrice Thompson Miles of Burlington permanently disfigured and disabled.

Hampton had been seeking more than $10,000 in damages under each of four alleged claims, including: medical negligence causing permanent disfigurement, as well as pain and suffering; medical battery, based on a claim that Miles had not consented to the stent procedure; lack of informed consent; and a fourth claim (res ipsa loquitur), holding all those who had been connected with the procedure liable, even if they were not directly responsible for the alleged injuries.

Hampton’s appeal rested on her contention that a Wake County visiting superior court judge, A. Graham Shirley, II, who presided over the civil trial in Alamance County in April 2018, had erred in instructing the jury and admitting expert witness testimony for the defense that she deemed prejudicial.

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Miles had been a patient at Hearn’s practice in Burlington, Hearn Vascular Surgery, since 2004, the factual background states.  She was being treated for renal failure and was placed on dialysis in 2010.  On March 8 2011, Hearn performed an angioplasty and inserted a stent to unblock a vein to provide a new access point for dialysis.

Three days later, another doctor who worked at Hearn Vascular Surgery, Dr. Gregory Schnier, operated on Miles to insert a “permacath” (or a type of IV), running from a blood vessel underneath the collarbone into a large vein entering the heart on the right side, the factual background states.

Miles experienced an abnormal heartbeat during the procedure performed by Schnier and was placed on medication to treat the arrhythmia.  She was later transferred to Duke Hospital, on March 12, 2011, where further examination revealed the presence of a “foreign body” in the right ventricle of Miles’ heart – a self-expanding stent placed by Hearn that had become damaged.  Miles was initially released from Duke Hospital on March 23; readmitted less than a week later “due to bleeding from the dialysis site”; and released in early April 2011. 

Hearn later filed bankruptcy, according the Alamance County court file. He and Schnier had admitting privileges at Alamance Regional Medical Center, where the angioplasty and permacath procedures were performed, according to the court file.

Following her release from Duke Hospital in April 2011, Miles was admitted at a nursing home in Georgia and later died “from other causes,” according to the factual background. 

Hampton was one of Miles’ four children and an attorney living in Atlanta, Georgia, according to an obituary that Alamance Funeral Service published after Miles died at age 74 in January 2017.

Medical experts testified during the trial in Alamance County in 2018 that he stent had been placed too far into Miles’ vein, setting the stage for the stent to “be sheared in half causing it to migrate,” the factual background states.

Two experts in vascular surgery who testified for the defense said that Hearn had “complied with the standard of care” in performing the angioplasty and stent placement on Miles.

On appeal, Hampton unsuccessfully argued that had Shirley instructed jurors on another aspect of medical negligence, “intervening negligence,” it is likely they would’ve reached a different verdict.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that Shirley had not erred in instructing the jury and had not abused his discretion in allowing the expert testimony for the defense.

Judge Philip Berger, Jr. wrote the opinion for the Court of Appeals; judges John M. Tyson and Lucy Inman concurred.

Hearn’s medical license expired in May 2015, and he is currently listed as inactive, according to the North Carolina Medical Board (NCMB), which is responsible for licensing and overseeing doctors in the state.  Schnier is currently employed with Alamance Vein and Vascular Surgery in Burlington, and his license is good standing, according to the NCMB.

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