$6.3 Million Verdict Obtained by Doyle LLP for Surgeon Defamed by Hospital
On March 29, 2017, a Harris County District Court Jury (Houston, Texas) found that Memorial Hermann Health System defamed and disparaged surgeon Dr. Miguel Gomez III. The jury also found by clear and convincing evidence that through the defamation and disparagement, Memorial Hermann specifically intended to cause substantial injury or harm to Dr. Gomez.
The trial was of particular importance in the medical community and has been closely watched by physicians and hospital systems throughout the state of Texas. The trial had also received significant media attention including two articles by the Houston Chronicle, available at http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Heart-surgeon-wins-6-4-million-verdict-in-11037414.php and http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Doctors-lawsuit-against-hospital-turns-on-care-v-11010684.php.
The verdict further vindicated the reputation of Dr. Gomez – a cardiovascular surgeon who provided specialized “off-pump” and robotic surgical procedures in the West Houston area. A star surgeon at Memorial Hermann’s Memorial City flagship hospital for 12 years, Dr. Gomez had begun considering splitting his practice between Memorial Hermann and a competing hospital in early 2009. During that same time period, Dr. Gomez had also expressed his concerns to administrators regarding a decline in the staffing, equipment, and other safety concerns at Memorial Hermann Memorial City.
Dr. Gomez had accused the hospital system’s managers of retaliating against him in response to his safety complaints, as well as the threat that Memorial Hermann would lose revenue for his surgical procedures to the competing hospital. Specifically Dr. Gomez alleged a “calculated and deliberate scheme to destroy [his] reputation.” Dr. Gomez further alleged that Memorial Hermann engaged in a whisper campaign to cause referring physicians to stop referring cardiovascular and thoracic patients to him by malicious dissemination of false and misleading statistics and statements about his surgical abilities.
After hearing the evidence for nearly two weeks, the Jury determined that Memorial Hermann defamed and disparaged Dr. Gomez based on the statements of two separate directors at Memorial Hermann.
First, a Memorial Hermann director told a physician liaison at the competing hospital system that Dr. Gomez had “bad quality, high mortality rates, [and conducted] unnecessary surgeries.” Based on this defamatory statement, the jury awarded Dr. Gomez $304,500.00 in past reputational damage, $700,000.00 for future reputational damage, $304,500.00 in past lost income, and $700,000.00 in future lost income.
In addition, based on explicit orders from the CEO of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Hospital, another Memorial Hermann director shared false and misleading information to the cardiologists and physicians who had previously referred patients to Dr. Gomez. The jury found that these false and misleading statements were made maliciously and knowingly by Memorial Hermann with the intent to cause injury to Dr. Gomez. The jury then awarded Dr. Gomez $456,750.00 in past reputational damage, $1,050,00.00 in future reputational damage, 365,000.00 in past mental anguish, 456,750.00 in past lost income, $1,050,00.00 in future lost income, and $1,000,000.00 in punitive damages.
The Jury also determined that Memorial Hermann conspired “with others to restrain trade by causing referring physicians to stop referring cardiovascular and thoracic surgical procedures to Dr. Gomez.” However, the jury found that this conspiracy did not unreasonably harm the entire West Houston market related to cardiovascular and thoracic surgical procedures.
In response to this powerful jury determination, Dr. Gomez said “This verdict is a vindication of our five-year fight. I am grateful that the jury and the court saw the evidence and ensured that my family, friends and patients would see justice prevail. I hope Memorial Hermann management learns something from this case too.”
Doyle LLP partner Michael Patrick Doyle, who represents Dr. Gomez, said “this verdict sends a message that medical professionals can fight back when hospital systems damage reputations just to keep market share – in this case, by improperly manipulating the medical peer review process and patient data.”
Notably, the verdict came roughly twenty-two months after the Texas Supreme Court’s decision that required Memorial Hermann to provide allegedly confidential documents that Dr. Gomez had requested during the lawsuit. The trial then featured the internal Memorial Hermann documents that Dr. Gomez secured after the Supreme Court rejected the hospital system’s claim that the documents were shielded from view by “peer review proceedings.”
If you or someone you know has been wrongfully defamed or disparaged by a hospital system or hospital network, contact the experienced trial attorneys at Doyle LLP for more information and guidance on the legal options for your claim.