A doctor finds himself in an even worse position after he is alleged to have obstructed justice in a medical malpractice case brought against him personally, and against his professional corporation. In the case out of the Circuit Court of Martinsville, the doctor was sanctioned for giving false answers to discovery requests, surreptitiously accessing the plaintiff’s medical records in violation of HIPAA, influencing a witness to testify falsely, and intentionally concealing evidence by hiding a deposition exhibit. In its unpublished 16-page letter opinion, the Court noted that it would not tolerate such “deceptive and abusive conduct” from a defendant, and granted Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions, stuck Defendant’s Answer, and granted summary judgment to Plaintiff on the issue of liability. The case will continue to trial to determine the issue of damages only.
The case is David Nelson French v. Jack Allan Painter, M.D., et al. Plaintiff alleged that the cardiologist negligently performed a medical procedure by improperly utilizing a vascular closure device. According to Plaintiff, the doctor’s negligence caused him to suffer a permanent neurological injury. During the doctor’s deposition, Plaintiff’s counsel asked the doctor to mark his incision on an anatomical drawing. The doctor made one mark, and then refused to make further marks because in his view, the drawing was inaccurate. A short time later, the drawing disappeared. The attorneys and court reporter began looking through files and briefcases, but could not find it. Later, the doctor received a discovery request asking about the drawing, and the doctor answered under oath that he was not in possession of it and did not know where it was located. The doctor subsequently admitted that he had placed the drawing in his coat pocket during the deposition.
These actions by the doctor, as well as others, led the Plaintiff to file a Motion for Sanctions, seeking summary judgment against the doctor pursuant to Rule 4:12 of the Virginia Supreme Court, Virginia Code § 8.01-271.1, and the inherent power of the court. The Court conducted three evidentiary hearings following the motion, and heard testimony from the doctor himself. Judge G. Carter Greer found that Rule 4:12 and Virginia Code § 8.01-271.1 were both inapplicable to this case, and that the main issue before the Court was whether the doctor had committed fraud on the court, which may be punished through the exercise of a court’s inherent power. Fraud on the court must be proven by the heightened standard of “clear and convincing” evidence.
In reaching its decision to sanction the doctor, the Court noted that the doctor had “displayed scornful demeanor” during the hearings by “referring to the plaintiff as a ‘bum,’ raising objections on his own, and calling himself ‘Houdini’ during his testimony.” The Court found that, by clear and convincing evidence, the doctor had committed fraud on the court, meaning he had set in motion a scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate the matter. Based on this finding, the Court determined that “a sanction [was] unquestionably warranted,” and granted summary judgment to the Plaintiff. A trial date to determine the issue of damages has not yet been set.