Jury awards $1.5 M to gunshot victim who sued treating physician

David Yates Feb. 24, 2009, 9:00am

Although he was adamant in his testimony that doctors can only facilitate healing, a Jefferson County jury still levied a $1.5 million against Dr. Charles Domingues, finding that he could have done more for a gunshot victim.

The medical malpractice trial of Jerry Sylvester vs. Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital et al began Wednesday, Jan. 21, in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court and ended on Friday, Feb. 20, with a $1,535,000 judgment against Dr. Domingues.

Dr. Domingues, his colleague Dr. Daniel Thompson and the Beaumont Bone & Joint Institute were sued three years ago by Jerry Sylvester, a man who survived a gunshot wound but blamed the doctors' negligence for the subsequent amputation of his leg.

Jurors found no negligence on the part of Dr. Thompson or Beaumont Bone & Joint Institute.

Christus, one of the original defendants, was dropped from the suit in December.

"I felt the verdict was not in line with the evidence," defense attorney Marion Kruse Jr. told the Record during a recent phone interview.

He added that both parties had settled on a high/low agreement before the verdict was reached, which prohibits an appeal on Dr. Domingues' behalf.

During the trial, Sylvester and his attorney, Brian Sutton, maintained that Sylvester's treating physicians did not properly clean and treat his gunshot wound, which resulted in the infection that claimed his leg.

Sylvester was shot in the leg on April 14, 2004, and after receiving emergency care at Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth he continued treatment with Drs. Domingues and Thompson at Beaumont Bone & Joint.

According to his court testimony, Dr. Domingues was the orthopedist on call the night Sylvester was shot. Dr. Domingues was paged to come to Christus, and when he arrived around 2 a.m. he testified that Sylvester's wound had already been cleaned and bandaged.

The doctor told jurors that he inspected the wound and after evaluation, decided blood was still flowing to the leg, making surgery unnecessary.

"There are forces beyond our control," Dr. Domingues testified. "We can facilitate healing, but we cannot command it."

Dr. Domingues also said that even though the bullet shattered a bone in Sylvester's leg, the wound "was stable" and that he "wasn't expecting him to lose his leg, but it was certainly a possibility."

Although Dr. Domingues testified that he re-cleaned the wound and prescribed antibiotics for Sylvester, the plaintiff's counsel argued that had the doctor properly cleaned the wound, Sylvester would still have his leg.

Jurors agreed, awarding Sylvester $100,000 for his physical pain, $450,000 in lost earnings, $100,000 in disfigurement damages, $175,000 for his impairment and $715,000 in medical expenses.

Kruse is a partner of the Kruse Law Firm in Houston.

Sutton is a partner in the Sutton & Jacobs law firm in Beaumont.

According to a news report in the Beaumont Enterprise, Sylvester's assailant, Rico Holland, was 19 years old when he shot Sylvester. Neither the suit nor news report state why Holland shot Sylvester. Holland was sentenced to 20 years for the crime.

Holland appealed after he was handed the 20 year sentence, and on Oct. 10, 2006, justices seated on the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals denied his request for a mistrial, according to court records.

Case No. D177-259

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