Last month, a Texas jury awarded a patient $43.32 million in damages after he was induced into a coma and abandoned by the hospital and doctor that was supposed to be treating him. The case, Billy Pierce v. East Texas Medical Center and Dr. Gary Boyd and the ETMC Digestive Disease Center, No. 16-0853-C, was tried in the 241st District Court in Smith County. Following a five-day trial, the jury found that the East Texas Medical Center was grossly negligent its medical care of the plaintiff and its supervision of Dr. Gary Boyd. Dr. Boyd was on probation with the Texas Medical Board at the time of his treatment of the plaintiff, which pursuant to the hospital’s bylaws and policies, should have automatically suspended Boyd from the hospital.
Grossly Negligent Treatment
The 61-year old plaintiff, Billy Pierce, began receiving treatment from Dr. Gary Boyd in April 2014 after being admitted into East Texas Medical Center for stomach pains and vomiting. A CT scan indicated there were stones in Pierce’s bile duct. Dr. Boyd, however, incorrectly diagnosed Pierce with an anatomical abnormality that would render it impossible to surgically remove the bile duct stones. Pierce was then left in a medically induced coma for over a month without receiving further treatment from the hospital or doctor. Eventually, a second opinion was sought by another doctor who rejected Dr. Boyd’s misdiagnosis. Pierce underwent surgery to remove the bile duct stones. Although this surgery was performed without complications, the stagnancy of his treatment led to other serious permanent injuries, including damage to his organs that required him to undergo a liver transplant. Pierce is currently on organ rejection medication, can no longer work, and has experienced a drastic decrease in his overall quality of life.
Dr. Boyd had entered into a settlement agreement with Pierce prior to trial. At the trial of the hospital, the evidence showed that Dr. Boyd should not have been allowed to treat patients at the hospital because he was on probation with the Texas Medical Board stemming from a previous incident during which, similar to the instant matter, he misdiagnosed a patient and performed unnecessary medical procedures. The Board found that Dr. Boyd inaccurately stated the location of his patient’s ulcer and had wrongfully claimed that he performed multiple biopsies to test for cancer. In actuality, the biopsies were never performed. As stated in the hospital’s own bylaws and policies, the hospital privileges of a doctor on probation are automatically suspended.
Although East Texas Medical Center maintained that it did not deviate from the requisite standard of care when treating Pierce, the plaintiff’s attorney called the hospital’s own doctors to testify to refute such contentions. As plaintiff’s attorney, Reid Martin, states: “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 found that the hospital was 90 percent liable for the damages, holding Dr. Boyd liable for the remaining 10 percent. As part of its gross negligence finding, the jury awarded $25 million in exemplary damages, finding that the hospital’s conduct involved an extreme risk of potential harm to others. The jury also awarded the plaintiff $18.57 million for past and future pain, anguish, loss of earning capacity, and medical care and expenses.
Prior to the conclusion of the trial, the plaintiff entered into an agreement with the defendant’s insurer that guaranteed a $4 million payout to the plaintiff regardless of the verdict but would also limit the damages to $9 million if the jury’s verdict exceeded that amount. Although substantially less than the jury’s verdict, the agreement avoids unnecessary appellate practice and ensures that the plaintiff will be paid quickly. As Reid Martin, the plaintiff’s attorney, points out: “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.”
By any measure, the verdict is a huge win for the plaintiff, particularly in light of the difficulty of establishing gross negligence.