Hospital asks judge to disregard jury verdict

David Yates Dec. 14, 2009, 12:30pm

In spite of having a trial end its favor in October, Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont Hospital is presently asking a local judge to discard a $156,000 jury award and enter a new judgment of $261,000.

A hearing on Baptist's motion to disregard the jury's finding was held Monday, Dec. 14, in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

In October, the Southeast Texas Record reported on the trial of Dr. James Grubbs vs. Baptist Beaumont Hospital, in which the plaintiff alleged he was let go for reporting illegal Medicare billing practices.

Grubbs, a child psychiatrist, filed the suit after his contract was terminated in 2004.

However, during the trial Baptist claimed Grubbs' contract was terminated because he "failed to use his best efforts to bill and collect," and asked the jury to award the hospital $261,271.49 – money that Baptist claims Grubbs milked from the hospital.

Jurors found in Baptist's favor, but only awarded the hospital $156,081 in damages – more than $100,000 less than what it was seeking.

The contract, court records show, called for Baptist Beaumont to reimburse Grubbs up to $20,000 a month for one full year.

Grubbs failed to collect a single cent from patients he treated in the first months of his practice. He testified at trial that computer problems kept him from his billing duties.

During the hearing, Baptist attorney David Bernsen said the evidence showed Grubbs received and owed the hospital $261,271.49, and that the jury disregarded the contract by awarding only $156,081.

"This court has a duty to set aside the jury's finding and enter a verdict of ($261, 271.49)," he said. "There's no contradictory evidence. However, if the court disagrees with that, then certainly we are in favor of the ($156,081)."

Grubbs' attorney, Gary Cornwell, agreed with Bernsen, saying "the jury disregarded everything ... in the contract."

"We plan to file a motion for a new trial based on that," Cornwell said, adding that the judge, if he so wished, could decline Baptist's motion and "expedite things" by granting a new trial without waiting on him to file a motion.

Judge Floyd is expected to craft a ruling on the issue sometime in January.

Bernsen is attorney for the Beaumont law firm Moore Landrey.

Cornwell has a practice in Beaumont.

Case No. A173-730

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