Jury to begin deliberations in six-week medical malpractice trial

David Yates Jan. 15, 2009, 4:48am

For almost two months, the water-cooler topic around the Jefferson County Courthouse has been the bizarre medical malpractice trial carrying on in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

On Jan. 15, plaintiff Stacy Thompson and her lawyer, Valorie Davenport, rested their case. As of press time, on Thursday, jurors were expected to receive the case for deliberations by the end of the day.

The med-mal trial of Thompson vs. Dr. James Woodruff et al began on Dec. 1 and has taken many unusual turns.

Last week, the Record reported that a bailiff for Judge Floyd was ordered to go wrangle up Davenport, who had wandered away from a trial to attend a hearing in a different court.

She returned to the court with one bailiff and two armed deputies in tow. Since that Jan. 6 incident, a county deputy has kept close watch on the trial, anticipating that the judge might hold one of the attorneys trying the case in contempt.

The round up incident was only one of many dramatic episodes to take place during the trial.

At least three times since the start of the trial, Judge Floyd has had his bailiff escort jurors out of his courtroom so he could privately admonish lawyers on both sides for acting unprofessionally.

In one incident, according to Davenport, Judge Floyd slammed his fist on the bench when defense attorney James Edwards interrupted trial proceedings and told Davenport "to sit down."

On several occasions, Judge Floyd has threatened to hold the misbehaving attorneys in contempt and declare a mistrial, but never made good on his threats.

As soon as the trial began, an explosive shouting match erupted between opposing counsel when it was discovered Davenport had passed out notebooks and binders containing possible case information to jurors without notifying the defense.

The outburst, which was the first of many, caused Judge Floyd to briefly stop the trial so he could threaten to hold the lawyers in contempt.

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.

Thompson also testified that her treating physicians never even informed of the possibility that her condition could be the result of breast cancer.

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

In her opening remarks, 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 Joel Sprott, Dr. Woodruff is represented by his son, James Woodruff II, and Dr. Kacy is represented by Edwards.

Case No. E167-187

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