PHILADELPHIA - A defense attorney facing the loss of her business from an unprecedented judicial sanction can breathe a sigh of relief following a ruling issued by the Pennsylvania Superior Court Wednesday.
The appellate court has temporarily halted the imposition of a $1 million fine against Philadelphia attorney Nancy Raynor, who received the sanction after one of her witnesses during a medical malpractice trial disclosed information that had been ruled inadmissible by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto.
The court has also granted Raynor access to business accounts and assets that were frozen per the trial judge's order in November.
The per curiam order directs Panepinto to hold a hearing in 15 days to review new evidence and witness testimony Raynor's defense attorneys claim will provide more proof that she directed her expert to not bring up a plaintiff's history of smoking.
Raynor served as lead defense for Roxborough Memorial Hospital during a 2012 medical malpractice suit. The family of Rosalind Wilson blamed her cancer-related death on the hospital for allegedly failing to inform her of a detected nodule on her lung during a hospital stay in May 2007. Doctors diagnosed Wilson with lung cancer more than 18 months later and died shortly after in July 2009.
Acting as the executrix of the estate, Wilson's daughter, Rosalind Sutch, filed the malpractice suit against the hospital that reached trial in 2012. Panepinto sided with the plaintiffs, who argued that mentioning Wilson's smoking history would unfairly distract jurors from the hospital's responsibility to inform patients of x-ray results. The attorneys were ordered to tell their witnesses to refrain from bringing up the smoking, but one of Raynor's experts blurted it out.
Panepinto slapped Raynor with the fine and later ruled a mistrial, banning the attorney from representing the hospital and other defendants in the case. A new trial resultedin a $2 million verdict for the plaintiffs. Raynor was ordered to pay $615,349 in attorney fees to Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg, $160,612 to Messa & Associates, and $170,235 to Sutch, according to the sanctions order.
Raynor's client, a physician also named in the suit, and another defense witness told Panepinto during a hearing over the sanctions that they overheard Raynor instructed the expert not to mention the smoking, but the judge was unmoved.
"By eliciting testimony that the decedent was a smoker, Raynor displayed her inflexibility and unyielding position towards this court and its preclusion order," Panepinto said. "This, even after all parties including Raynor agreed to the preclusion order that the court entered."