After an alcoholic patient relapsed and drove himself drunk to an emergency appointment, an Atlanta doctor allowed him to get back behind the wheel, according to a lawsuit filed in Fulton County state court. Two hours later and several miles away, that patient caused a crash that killed the popular Cobb County author of “The Millionaire Next Door.”
Now - in what one legal expert said is an unusual tactic - that doctor is being sued by the author’s family.
Jeffrey Robert Fettig, 47, was being treated for alcoholism, anxiety and depression by Dr. Floyd Garrett, who prescribed Fettig the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam, the lawsuit states. After being sober for six months, Fettig relapsed in February 2015 and made an emergency appointment with Garrett on a Saturday.
Fettig had already had five pints of beer when he arrived at the noon appointment, according to the suit. Neither Garrett nor his attorney responded Wednesday to requests for comment on the case.
“He (Dr. Garrett) should’ve been able to recognize that he was under the influence at the time,” attorney David Hungeling said Wednesday. “And because he had relapsed, he was likely to continue drinking.”
Fettig did continue drinking, making two additional stops. On the afternoon of Feb. 28, 2015, Fettig was driving his Acura on Paper Mill Road near Atlanta Country Club Drive when his vehicle T-boned a 2012 Corvette driven by Thomas J. Stanley. Stanley, the author of the “Millionaire Next Door” book series, died from his injuries. He was 71.
Tests on Fettig’s blood nearly two hours after the crash showed a blood-alcohol content of .192 as well as the presence of anti-anxiety medication in his system, according to investigators. Fettig later pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle in the first degree and driving under the influence and was sentenced to 15 years, including eight to serve in prison.
“We’re very upset at Mr. Fettig and his choices,” Hungeling said. “But we appreciate that we he’s accepted responsibility for what he’s done.”
But Fettig should not have been prescribed Lorazepam while he was drinking alcohol because mixing the two can cause the patient to black out or fall asleep, the lawsuit states.
“Mr. Fettig’s outward signs of his intoxication would have been even more obvious because of the Lorazepam in his system,” the suit states.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death and requests a trial.
Former State Bar of Georgia President Robin Clark, who is not involved in the lawsuit, called it “very unusual.”
“I’ve never heard of one like this,” Clark said.
Medical malpractice cases are common, but in this case, the doctor’s action affected not a patient but a third party, she said. She added that Garrett may be protected legally from discussing the details of his patient’s medical condition.
Stanley’s “Millionaire Next Door” books were based on his theories that self-made millionaires were more likely to be frugal rather than flashy with cash. At the time of his death, he was working on another book with his daughter.
Before writing his book series, Stanley was a marketing professor at Georgia State University, a public speaker and consultant on selling to the rich. Before his 1996 breakout hit “The Millionaire Next Door,” his theories were gaining publicity, and he and his wife, Janet, figured the book, his fourth, would do well, but couldn’t have predicted its popularity.
That book got him a spot on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, and that book and the sequel “The Millionaire Mind” spent a collective 170-plus weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list.
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