James Old Jr.
Hearing a command from God among other voices inside her head, a delusional Connie Woods dumped flesh-eating chemicals all over her feet.
Whether she performed the act while in the care of a Beaumont hospital or at home, is a question Jefferson County jurors will have to answer.
Opening remarks were heard in the trial of Connie Woods v. Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital (Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas) Wednesday, May 14.
Woods was forcefully admitted to the Beaumont branch Memorial Hermann on Dec. 15, 2002. During her three day stay in the ER, nurses and family members kept the combative Woods under tight surveillance and in a locked room.
Plaintiff's attorney Gary Cornwell, painting his client's side of the story, told jurors that somehow Woods was able to obtain a hospital chemical loaded with alkaline and pour it over her feet, leaving nothing but black-charred flesh that had to be scrubbed off.
"Connie (Woods) was hearing voices … and thought God was commanding her to do things," Cornwell told jurors. "The hospital had a duty to watch her eyeball to eyeball … there's evidence showing they didn't watch her that closely."
But defense attorney James Old Jr. said that when Woods was first admitted, she was wearing thick socks and leather boots. Hospital personnel attempted to strip them off for an examination, but a combative Woods thwarted their treatment, Old said, adding that the woman's wounds were not discovered until the latter part of her stay while in the ER.
"You don't take clothing off a psychotic patient refusing treatment," Old told jurors.
He said that his expert will testify about the way medical personnel must first gain the patient's trust before stripping the patient.
But Cornwell says the medical records will show that her boots were indeed taken off and put into a locker shortly after her arrival.
The hospital contends that the troubled Woods poured a kitchen cleaner containing alkaline, a common household chemical, over the tops of her feet before she was admitted.
Old argues that the chemical would have taken several days to cause the type of severe 4th-degree burn that Woods suffered and that if she had hurt herself while at the hospital, the wound would have been only in its beginning stages.
Cornwell counters Old's argument by saying Wood's socks and hospital-issued booties were laced with the chemical and not the leather boots she was wearing at admission, suggesting she poured alkaline on herself while at the hospital.
"This case is 100 percent circumstantial," Old countered. "The plaintiffs cannot prove that these burns happened at the hospital.
"Is it reasonably foreseeable to think a patient can get through a locked door, to a locked locker to dump cleaner on her feet?"
Old continued by saying hospital staff went above and beyond the ordinary standard of care by keeping a constant watch on Woods and making sure she was locked inside her room.
The only piece of direct evidence in the trial is a statement in hospital records, not written by a nurse or doctor, that says Woods told treating nurses that she dumped the kitchen cleaner on her feet while at home.
Old says nurses were too busy treating Woods to write the statement into the record but will testify in the trial that Woods told them she injured herself at home.
Old also says signs of Wood's injury went unnoticed because alkaline destroys tissue nerve endings, which would have prevented Woods from feeling or showing pain.
Woods and her husband Jeff filed their suit on March 17, 2005, in the Jefferson County District Court.
They are seeking damages for past and future impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, lost earnings, medical expenses and loss of consortium.
Old is a partner in the Germer Gertz law firm.
Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th Judicial District, is presiding over the trial.
Case No. B169-579