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Litigator of the Week: Tyler Lawyer Wins $43M Med Mal Verdict Against Hospital

Law.com, February 6, 2018

By: John Council

Reid Martin recently convinced a state jury to hit an East Texas hospital with a $43 million verdict and a rare gross negligence finding. And he did it with testimony from the hospital’s own doctors.

Martin represents Billy Pierce, who sued Tyler’s East Texas Medical Center in 2014 for medical malpractice and gross negligence for violating its own bylaws by allowing a doctor on probation from the Texas Medical Board to treat Pierce.

According to his petition, Pierce, a 61-year-old senior vice president of X-Chem, was placed under the care of Dr. Gary Boyd in 2014.  He was admitted to the hospital for treatment after a CT scan showed showed stones in his bile duct.

But pursuant to the hospital’s own bylaws, Boyd’s privileges should have been suspended in 2014 because he was on probation from the Texas Medical Board. He was placed on probation a year earlier for inaccurately diagnosing a patient and performing unnecessary procedures.

Jurors heard testimony that Boyd erroneously diagnosed Pierce with an anatomical abnormality that would make surgery to remove bile duct stones impossible. Pierce was left in a medically induced coma for over a month and claimed he was effectively abandoned by Boyd and the hospital.

When ETMC finally sought a second opinion, a new doctor rejected Boyd’s diagnosis and performed surgery to remove Pierce’s bile duct stones without complication. Pierce later had to undergo a liver transplant because of the misdiagnosis, is currently on organ rejection medication, and can no longer work.

While the hospital contended at trial that it provided the appropriate medical care for Pierce, Martin refuted that with testimony from ETMC’s own doctors.

“Three guys told about how Boyd was a problem and that the hospital knew [Boyd] was a problem and didn’t do anything about it. It was beautiful to see,’’ Martin said. “I think that was monumental in a medical malpractice case to have doctors standing up for their patent and against the hospital.’’

The jury’s Jan. 30 verdict concluded the hospital committed gross negligence, and awarded Pierce the $43 million, including nearly $18.6 million for loss of earning capacity and $25 million in exemplary damages. The jury also found the hospital was 90 percent liable for damages, while Boyd was 10 percent liable.

Boyd settled with Pierce before trial.

Stan Thiebaud, a partner in Dallas’ Thiebaud Remington Thornton Bailey who represents ETMC, did not return a call for comment.

“It’s very rare to get a gross negligence finding in a medical malpractice case against a hospital. In this case, I asked the jury for $20 million and they gave me $25 million in exemplary damages,’’ Martin said.

Martin believes Pierce may have been able to keep a majority of the jury’s verdict, even with Texas’ strict tort reform laws that cap plaintiff’s damage awards against hospitals.

But Martin entered into a high/low agreement with the ETMC’s insurer a week before the conclusion of the trial. Their agreement was that Pierce would receive a low of $4 million regardless of how the jury ruled or a high of $9 million if the jury’s verdict exceeded $9 million, Martin said.

“We got the $9 million because the verdict was above that. That was with no appeals and with money to be paid within 30 days of the verdict,’’ Martin said, who notes his client’s quality of life has been stolen because his liver transplant requires him to be on anti-rejection medication and requires frequent hospitalization.

“And it’s a good resolution for this family because they went through hell and back,” he added.