HARRISBURG — A doctor has lost his appeal seeking a new trial on damages after a Lehigh County court reduced a jury verdict in his favor by more than $50,000.
The Superior Court on March 2 affirmed the decision in McGee's breach of contract lawsuit against St. Luke's Health Network Hospital and Dr. John Bruno. The court found no evidence that the jury's verdict was compromised.
McGee, who was awarded $104,000 in damages for the alleged contract breaches before a judge reduced it by half, had been seeking further damages for a letter the hospital sent to the Arizona Medical Board and other organizations that he said damaged his reputation.
McGee claimed that the jury’s verdict in the initial
trial for his breach of contract claims had no relation to the evidence that
was presented during the trial. Because of this, he felt he was entitled to a new trial on damages and argued that the court committed an
McGee was a physician at the hospital until he was suspended
in September 2005. St. Luke’s claimed that it suspended him during an
investigation into allegations of McGee violating his employee agreement.
after his suspension, McGee asked Bruno, the hospital's vice president for medical affairs, for a reference letter, as he was
seeking employment at another hospital. In the letter, Bruno referenced the
investigation allegations, which included:
-McGee’s failure to provide a
screening exam to an emergency room patient;
-McGee's dating relationship with a patient; and
-McGee's alleged transgression in writing himself a prescription he claimed was for a patient.
Bruno said the hospital did a full investigation and fired McGee as a result.
Three years later, McGee filed a lawsuit
against St. Luke’s and Bruno. He alleged that the defendants defamed him and
hindered his current and future business relations. In 2009, both parties
presented the terms of a settlement agreement, which the trial court approved
and adopted as an order of court.
In the court order was a form letter that the
hospital was told to use in all future dealing regarding McGee’s employment
with St. Luke’s. The letter does not reference any allegations that McGee had
relations with a patient.
Over the next four years, both parties utilized the letter
to provide a reference for McGee. But in 2011, the defendants sent an
alternative letter that contained an allegation that St. Luke’s had terminated
McGee “for what [it] considered the exercise of poor judgment in the handling
and treatment of patients and medications,” according to court documents.
alternative letter also contained the dating allegations that McGee “dated a woman
who had previously been admitted and discharged as his patient.”
This letter was sent to several medical organizations by St.
Luke’s, including the Arizona Medical Board and Carlisle Regional Medical Center. McGee was in talks with each for employment opportunities.
McGee got wind of the alternative letter and filed a lawsuit
stating that the hospital and Bruno had defamed his character, interfered with
his well-being and breached the settlement agreement.
During the trial, the defendants focused on the idea that the
letters did not cause damage to McGee’s reputation, but that his own actions
caused his misfortune. The jury found in favor
of McGee on his breach-of-contract claims.
The total award to McGee was $104,000, but the trial court found there wasn't evidence to support two of the $26,000 awards, reducing each to $1 and reducing the total verdict by half. McGee
then filed a post-trial motion, arguing the damage to his reputation was obvious. The trial court denied McGee’s motion.
The final statement in the court's decision reads: “We again refuse to speculate on the nature of the verdict reached by the
jury. The verdicts based upon the erroneous letter sent to CRMC are supported
by sufficient evidence, and therefore we have no reason to categorize those verdicts as compromise verdicts.
"We thus have no reason to
assume that the Arizona Medical Board breach verdicts were part of a jury
compromise. The trial court appropriately molded the verdict to reflect what
all parties agree the record reflected. Dr. McGee’s second and final issue
merits no relief.”
McGee's expert Andrew Verzilli had testified that Dr. McGee suffered between $288,638 and $513,222 of lost
and future earnings due to his failure to be credentialed at CRMC.