Plaintiffs rest in Katrina wrongful death lawsuit

By Alejandro de los Rios | May 18, 2010

Di Leo

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) - The plaintiffs rested their case against Methodist Hospital in Orleans Parish Civil District Court Friday in a suit over a patient who died after the hospital lost power during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Lamar Edwards is suing Methodist Hospital and its owner, United Health Services, Inc., on behalf of his deceased mother, Lorraine Edwards, who was a patient at the hospital when its emergency power fuel pump flooded and the hospital lost power.

Edwards claims the hospital was negligent for not having properly prepared for a hurricane situation.

New Orleans attorneys Val Exnicios, Jennifer Eagan and James Carte represent Lamar Edwards and Gregory Di Leo is representing Lorraine Edwards.

New Orleans attorneys David Bowling, Kathryn Wasik, Ernest Gieger Jr., and Leah Taschek are representing UHS and Methodist Hospital.

Presided over by Judge Paulette Irons, the case could have an impact on how hospitals plan for disasters.

The first week of testimony saw the plaintiffs call a slew of witnesses that testified to the hospital's lacking facilities and how unprepared it seemed for emergency situations like those presented by Katrina.

The plaintiffs' expert witnesses lambasted Methodist Hospital for faulty engineering and planning leading up to the hurricane. Frank Painter, an expert in the fields of biomechanical engineering and clinical engineering, said the hospital's fuel pump could have been saved "for a very little sum of money" had it been raised off the ground.

Dr. Joel Nitzkin, an expert in public health healthcare administration, said there was an "unreasonable delay" in trying to evacuate the hospital and called the emergency planning "ill conceived."

Various testimonies from witnesses who worked with UHS and Methodist as engineers, architects, doctors and administrators revealed that both Methodist and UHS didn't test the functionality of their emergency power in the event of a flood. At one point, Methodist CEO Larry Graham was pressed by Di Leo over a fishing trip he took two days before Katrina made landfall.

Before resting their case, plaintiff attorneys called Lamar Edwards and Anna Thomas, Lorraine Edwards' sister, to the stand to give testimony about the deceased. Both spoke about Lorraine Edwards work with her church and 34 years of teaching. Lorraine Edwards was in Methodist Hospital recovering from a partial amputation of her leg below the knee when Katrina made landfall.

The case has been set to resume May 24 when the hospital is expected to make its case.

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