Short week for jurors in trial against local hospital

David Yates Oct. 14, 2009, 10:00am

Jurors digesting testimony in a contract trial against Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital went home with an empty stomach on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

The trial, which began earlier this month, was put on hold after Tuesday's session and will resume again Monday, Oct. 19 � giving jurors a five day lunch break.

A courthouse employee informed the Record the case's presiding judge, 172nd District Judge Donald Floyd, had other matters to attend to on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and decided to put the trial on hold.

The trial revolves around a doctor's contract with a local hospital.
During opening remarks, plaintiff's attorney Gary Cornwell claimed Baptist Hospital unjustly retaliated against his client, Dr. James Grubbs, by terminating his contract after he reported alleged illegal Medicare billing - which he claims was a common practice at the hospital.

Grubbs, a child psychiatrist, was recruited by the hospital in October 2003. The two parties entered into a one year contract wherein the hospital agreed to financially back Grubbs for one full year while he focused on growing his practice, court papers say.

According to Grubbs' lawsuit, around six months into his stint with Baptist his contract was terminated for his alleged failure to use his "best efforts" to bill and collect as outlined in the contract.

Cornwell contends his client's alleged breach of contract is a "complete sham," and previously said the doctor's termination was an act of retaliation for reporting that the hospital and staff did not act in the best interest of patients and illegally billed Medicare for doctor visits that never occurred.

Cornwell said Grubbs, disturbed by the hospital's dubious practices, began writing letters to department heads and even contacted state authorities, including the Texas Medical Board.

Shortly after making the reports, Grubbs said he was notified that he was failing to use his best efforts to bill and collect in accordance with his contract.

Thirty days later, Grubbs was fired, court records show.

Jurors will have to decide if Baptist Hospital "maliciously and purposefully" terminated Grubbs' contract in an act of retaliation, or if the hospital was acting within the guidelines of the contract.

Grubbs is asking jurors to award him what could be millions for lost wages and compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.

The defense claims Grubbs was taking advantage of the hospital and refused to use his "best effort" to bill and collect.

Baptist Hospital is represented by David Bernsen, an attorney for the Beaumont law firm Moore Landrey.

Cornwell has a practice in Beaumont.

Case No. A173-730

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