McMinn County Jury Trying $50,000,000 Lawsuit
ATHENS, Tenn. — It was early on the morning of May 20, 2016 when Betty Begazo was at Etowah Dialysis in McMinn County, a facility owned by DaVita Dialysis.
For over three years, Begazo had visited the clinic three times a week for treatment, but on this particular morning, the power went out while her blood was still circulating through the machine.
Begazo was resuscitated and taken to the hospital, where her condition worsened. After her brain activity ceased, Betty Begazo died.
But why did she die? That’s the question being answered by a jury of twelve in the courtroom of Judge J. Michael Sharp, and the answer could cost DaVita Dialysis fifty million dollars.
Begazo’s estate has filed a wrongful death suit over the incident, alleging that the facility did not contain a back-up generator, and the staff acted beneath the accepted standards of care during the power outage.
But the defense says no, claiming the staff was adequately trained, that Begazo’s nurse had been treating dialysis patients for 24 years, and that the power outage was not a life-threatening event, pointing to Begazo’s alleged cardiac problems as the cause of her death.
However, according to opening statements, the plaintiff’s case doesn’t stop at the events of that day.
Public record shows that the medical director of the facility, Dr. Genzali Khan, falsified his nephrology credentials for 15 years, and the plaintiff claims he was unfamiliar with the federal rules for dialysis treatment.
But the defense alleges that Dr. Khan wasn’t even at the facility on the day of the power outage, and raises the two questions:
Did Davita make any misrepresentations to Betty Begazo?
And did those misrepresentations lead to her death?
WHAT WE LEARNED DURING THE PLAINTIFF’S OPENING STATEMENT
Marc Walwyn gave the opening statement for the Plaintiff.
The family of of Betty Begazo were present and identified by Walwyn as Cesar, Sam, and Sunny — Begazo’s widower, son, and daughter, respectively. After acknowledging the family, Walwyn displayed a photo of Betty to the jury. He said that Begazo “loved life,” and spoke of her love for McMinn County.
“She wanted to live.”
According to Walwyn, Begazo underwent dialysis treatment three times a week — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — for intervals of three to four hours.
On the day of the power outage, Walwyn says there were 14 patients being treated and four staff members present.
“This story has a chaotic and tragic ending.”
As Walwyn tells it, Etowah Dialysis lost power at 7:10 a.m. as the result of a city-wide blackout. The facility allegedly did not have a backup generator, and blood would have to be returned to patients body’s via an “emergency hand crank,” which allows an operator to manually restore blood flow from the machine.
According to Walwyn, the emergency procedure must be done “extremely carefully” to avoid air bubbles from forming in a patient;s blood and inducing cardiac and respiratory distress. Walwyn promised evidence that Begazo was exhibiting signs of cardiac and respiratory issues before losing consciousness.
As would later be entered into evidence, it was a patient who called 911. The patient claimed to have heard Begazo calling for help, and advised a dialysis technician to check on her. When Begazo was found unconscious, called out for someone to call 911, and the patient did so.
“Power goes off periodically.”
Walwyn claims that Etowah Dialysis staff were not properly trained to carry out the “emergency hand crank” procedure, a claim that would be partially substantiated by the testimony of a former nurse at the facility who said she was never shown how to use the crank. Rather, she was provided with written instructions. This nurse was not a member of Etowah Dialysis staff during the power outage in 2016.
“Economics was put above patient safety.”
The Plaintiff also alleges evidence of corporate misconduct, claiming that DaVita withheld their air embolism policy during the majority of the discovery process.
WHAT WE LEARNED DURING THE DEFENSE’S OPENING STATEMENT
Tim Hayes gave the opening statement for the Defense.
“That’s not proof.”
Hayes began his statement by reminding the jury that opening statements are not evidence.
He then highlighted the three elements of proof relevant to this case:
- What was the recognized standard of care at the dialysis clinic?
- Did the staff act beneath the recognized standard of care?
- Were it not for the actions of the staff on May 20, 2016, would Betty Begazo have avoided injury?
“Two sides to every story…”
Hayes claims the staff was adequately trained and that the power outage was “not a life threatening event.”
He also said that the “emergency hand crank” was successfully performed, and it was only, later, when the attention was drawn to Begazo, that she was found to be unconscious.
According to Hayes, CPR was administered to Begazo and she regained consciousness after the incident.
“A mere power outage was not the emergency. The emergency was when Betty Begazo became unconscious.”
Hayes promised the testimony of the nurse who was on duty the day of the incident, saying that the nurse is was well-educated on proper procedure and will testify that no air was introduced into Begazo’s blood during the hand-crank procedure.
“The plaintiff’s theory is impossible.”
Finally Hayes promised evidence that the hand crank procedure was performed correctly, and stated that the evidence will show underlying cardiac illness to be the cause of Betty Begazo’s death.