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A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943

$5.7 Million Award to Physician Framed by Hospital Upheld by CA Supreme Court

A $5.7 million jury verdict for wrongdoing perpetrated on behalf of management at a Southern California hospital remains in effect, now that the California Supreme Court properly rejected an attempt to overturn it.

The verdict resulted from a scheme to frame a physician with a bag of illegal drugs and a loaded gun planted in his car. Even worse, a few days after the district attorney closed the matter, someone slashed the physician’s tires, causing it to flip over on the freeway, nearly killing his daughter and two Japanese exchange students.

The sordid details of this case were documented by local newspapers in Orange County, California, and by the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

The victimized physician, Michael W. Fitzgibbons, M.D., is an infectious disease specialist in Santa Ana, California, who exercised his First Amendment rights to oppose a buyer of Western Medical Center-Santa Ana. As Dr. Fitzgibbons predicted, financial problems began subsequent to the acquisition of this hospital by Integrated Healthcare Holdings, Inc.

The buyer then sued Dr. Fitzgibbons, but lost and was ordered to pay his legal fees. That was followed by the attempt to frame Dr. Fitzgibbons, causing him to be arrested, strip-searched, and held in a jail cell for roughly five hours.

Local law enforcement refused to investigate the cause of the nearly fatal car crash, or evidence that it was a form of retaliation against a whistleblower. Instead, the physician had to pursue nearly a decade of litigation against the owner of the hospital in an effort to hold perpetrators accountable.

After the jury announced its verdict against the hospital and made its $5.7 million award to Dr. Fitzgibbons, the trial judge subsequently overturned it. Dr. Fitzgibbons had to appeal, and the California 4th Appellate District, Division 3, reinstated the award in April.

The hospital owner then sought review by the California Supreme Court, which it denied on Aug 12 in Fitzgibbons v. Integrated Healthcare Holdings, No. S226996.

The California appellate court had expressed its dismay at how the trial court had overruled the jury verdict. “We are left to speculate why the [trial] court ignored the evidence showing Fitzgibbons suffered emotional distress far beyond mere embarrassment and physical manifestations of that distress,” it ruled.

“Legal accountability is long overdue for the wrongdoing done by hospital administration against physicians and other medical staff,” observed Andrew Schlafly, General Counsel for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. “It is encouraging that the California appellate courts upheld the jury verdict against the owner of the hospital in this case.”

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