Bill Rankin's Legal Brief

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Woman goes to doctor for discolored toenail, ends up dead

When Ok Hui Smith sought out medical care for a discolored toenail, a McDonough doctor prescribed her the drug Nizoral.

Four months later, the 78-year-old woman, who'd been married 50 years

and had 17 grandchildren, was hospitalized for liver failure. Three weeks after that, on Jan. 23, 2014, with her family at her bedside, she was pronounced dead.

Smith's doctor had put her on a drug known to cause potentially lethal liver toxicity, but he failed to monitor her liver function during the four months and a half months Smith was taking it, Dave Krugler, one of the family's lawyers, said in a statement.

This week, Smith's surviving husband settled his medical malpractice case against McDonough Primary Care and Dr. William Van Laar for $4.9 million, Krugler said. The settlement comes less than a month after a federal jury in Atlanta awarded $4.7 million for Ok Hui Smith's wrongful death, pain and suffering, and funeral and medical expenses.

"This was a clear case of malpractice and the consequences for the Smith family were devastating," said Krugler, an Atlanta attorney. "Patients should be able to rely on their doctors, and to lose one’s life over a discolored nail is simply indefensible. ... We're pleased that we were able to get the Smith family justice at the end of the day."

Lawyers for the doctor and McDonough Primary Care did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Ok Hui Smith met her husband, Thomas Smith, in 1960 while he was serving in the U.S. Army in South Korea. Three years later, they were married at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. The couple would later move their family to posts across the U.S., eventually settling in the metro area when Thomas Smith was stationed at Fort McPherson.

After Smith retired from the military in 1989, Ok Hui Smith tended to the family's garden, doted on her children and grandchildren and began her own custom-made bathing suit business.

After Smith was admitted to the hospital in January 2014, her condition briefly improved, her lawyers, of the firm Cash, Krugler & Fredericks, said in a statement. But then it plateaued and steadily worsened. She received narcotic  medications to relieve her pain as her liver and kidneys shut down. She also gained 25 pounds as fluid built up in her body.

The federal jury in Atlanta deliberated only 90 minutes before returning the $4.7 million verdict after a trial in late June, the family's lawyers said. The case settled this week for $4.9 million when the doctor's and clinic's insurer, MAG Mutual Insurance Co., agreed to pay the whole amount even though there was only $2 million in insurance coverage, Krugler said.

"Ok Hui was a very strong willed, beautiful lady who was loved and admired by all who knew her," Thomas Smith said. "She enjoyed and loved every day of her life. Her heartfelt  kindness she had for everyone was surpassed only by her love she had for her family. Our lives have been deeply saddened by her death."

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Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.