Attorneys' theatrics continue in med-mal trial as judge renews contempt threats

David Yates Dec. 15, 2008, 7:42am

Judge Donald Floyd

A week-long break and a surprise snow fall hasn't cooled tempers in the 172nd District Court, as Judge Donald Floyd renewed his threat on Monday, Dec. 12 to hold lawyers trying a medical malpractice case in contempt.

The trial of Stacy Thompson vs. Dr. James Woodruff et al started Dec. 1, but was put on hold for a week due to an attorney's vacation. The trial resumed Monday.

However, an hour into the resumed trial jurors were abruptly escorted out as Judge Floyd, once again, threatened to hold the lawyers in contempt, telling them "the jurors are picking up on the (shared) animosity" between the two sides.

Several jurors started to openly laugh when the judge halted the trial to lecture the attorneys.

Within the first hour of the resumed trial, the defendants had shouted out around six objections and both sides had convened at the judge's bench three times, making it a strong possibility that the attorneys have spent more time at the bench arguing with each other then actually arguing their case before jurors.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported Dec. 3, the first week of the med-mal trial was no better and also full of fireworks as counsel from both sides got into a shouting match. Judge Floyd removed the jury and threatened the attorneys with contempt back then too if the bickering did not cease.

The trial itself centers on Stacy Thompson, who sued several of her treating doctors in 2002, claiming they had negligently failed to diagnose her alleged breast cancer in a timely manner.

Jurors heard testimony from the plaintiff's medical expert, Dr. Bullock, who testified Thompson was experiencing a bloody nipple discharge – a sign of cancer – since in 1997 but was not correctly treated until 2001.

In July of 1997, she sought treatment from Dr. James Woodruff, who after running multiple test, failed to detect any signs of breast cancer.

Plaintiff's attorney Valorie Davenport told jurors Dr. Woodruff was negligent for not prescribing pain medication to Thompson and forcing her to undergo a galactogram (an imaging of the breast duct).

Court documents show Dr. Woodruff attempted to perform the galactogram test on Thompson three separate times, but she kept passing out from the pain.

The plaintiffs argue he was negligent for not prescribing her pain medication and making Thompson undergo the test a fourth time.
Court documents and testimony show that Dr. Woodruff had already performed several other types of tests, all of which came up negative.

A few months after Thompson's consultation, Dr. Woodruff retired.
Over the next four years, Thompson was treated by multiple physicians including doctors Duane Larson and Scott Kacy, both of whom are defendants in her suit.

During her opening remarks, Davenport accused Drs. Larson and Kacy of negligence, claiming they both failed to detect Thompson's breast cancer and failed to order a new round of tests - even though Thompson was still claiming to experience a bloody discharge from her right nipple.

In February 2001, a biopsy was performed on some of Davenport's breast tissue by the late Dr. Larson. The suspicious tissue was sent to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for further testing, where it was concluded Thompson had intradural carcinoma, modified black's nuclear grade 2 with Focal Necrosis ( early breast cancer), court documents show.

Thompson underwent surgery to have the cancerous cells removed and lost most of her right breast as a result. Plastic surgeons were unable to construct a new nipple on the breast, court documents and testimony show.

In his opening statement, defense attorney James Edwards argued Thompson's breast cancer was still in stage zero (the earliest stage) and that her bloody discharge was the result of a different "benign" condition that was detected and treated.

"Three different physicians looking for lumps … and breast cancer tests reported a normal exam and no bloody discharge," Edwards said. "There was never any cancerous tumor. These doctors did the appropriate tests."

Thompson, who had to have a back muscle removed to repair her breast, claims she can no longer work and is suing for past and future lost wages, mental anguish and disfigurement.

Her husband, also a plaintiff in the suit, is suing for loss of consortium and household services.

Dr. Larson is represented by attorney Sprott, Dr. Woodruff is represented by his son, James Woodruff II, and Dr. Kacy is represented by Edwards.

Davenport made the news in 1990 when she won an acquittal for her sister, who was charged with illegally using the men's room after she gave up on the long line to the ladies' room during a George Strait concert in Houston.

Case No. E167-187

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