CJ&D Medal of Justice Award, September 6, 2012: James Adams

Thursday, September 6, 2012

People who are wrongfully injured – and the families of those who have died – are the forgotten faces in the debate over the civil justice system. 

The CJ&D Medal of Justice recognizes the inspirational struggles of those who have been harmed through no fault of their own, and who turned their misfortune into something positive.  By successfully challenging wrongdoers in court, they stood up for justice and as a result, made the world a better place.  We admire their strength, respect their wisdom and honor their courage.

CJ&D Medal of Justice Award: James Adams


In March 1993, 5-month-old James Adams developed a high fever.  His mother took him to his HMO pediatrician who told her not to worry and prescribed saline drops and Tylenol.  But James’ temperature continued to rise.  Later that night when his mother realized he was limp and moaning, with a temperature of 104 degrees, she called James’ HMO, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia.  She was advised by the advice nurse on duty to give him a tepid bath.  The advice nurse, who had already decided that there were no signs of respiratory distress, consulted with a pediatrician, but failed to inform the pediatrician that James’ was moaning.  (Moaning  can be a very serious sign of respiratory distress.) 

On the pediatrician’s advice, the nurse called James’ mother back and told her to take James to a hospital.  However, rather than telling the parents to call 911 or go to the nearest hospital, the nurse told them they were pre-approved only to go to a Kaiser-affiliated hospital, which was 42 miles away.  Thirty miles into the trip, James suffered a respiratory arrest and his heart stopped beating.   Instead of continuing onto the HMO hospital, his parents missed the turn, but the next exit had a hospital sign, and they got James into the arms of an emergency room physician.   Full circulation never returned to his extremities, and James developed gangrene, ultimately requiring the amputation of his arms and legs.  Had James’ parents been told to hang up and call 911, or take him to the nearest hospital, his amputations would never have been necessary.

The Adams’, represented by the Georgia Law firm, Malone Law, brought a medical malpractice suit against Kaiser.  They alleged that Kaiser should have told the family to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.  In not doing so, they violated the standard of care to which young James was entitled. 

In 1995, after 9 days of trial, the jury issued a $45 million verdict, $40 million for James and $5 million for his parents.  The verdict brought public attention to the issue of managed care and helped change the way managed care is practiced in Georgia.  A year after the verdict, the Georgia Legislature passed the Patient Protection Act, which among other reforms, includes a requirement that HMO’s tell patients they are permitted to call 911 or go to an emergency room without pre-approval if they believe their health is in jeopardy. 

Today James is a healthy young man who has persevered and plays wheelchair sports.  As his attorney, Tommy Malone, told ‘Georgia’s Best Lawyers’ in 2009, “His life has as much or more promise as any other 16-year-old I’ve seen.  I know the civil justice system gave him a life, gave him back his dignity.”


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