Jury finds in favor of doctors after long and unusual medical malpractice trial

By David Yates | Feb 2, 2009

Valorie Davenport

After six days of deliberations, the medical-malpractice trial of Thompson vs. Dr. James Woodruff et al came to an end Friday, Jan. 30, as jurors found no wrongdoing on the part of the three defendant doctors.

Defense attorney James Woodruff II, who represented his father Dr. James Woodruff in the proceedings, said he was pleased with the verdict after six years of litigation.

"It is a just verdict and in line with the facts of this case," the attorney wrote in an e-mail. "My client had to endure numerous delays in his pursuit of justice. Justice has finally been served."

During the two-month trial in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court, jurors were exposed to as much attorney theatrics as they were testimony.

In the final days of the bizarre trial, plaintiff's attorney Valorie Davenport accused the Southeast Texas Record of "slanderous and inaccurate" reporting and asked Judge Floyd for a mistrial.

During a Jan. 14 hearing, Davenport told Judge Floyd, an African American, that the Record's coverage of the trial made her look as if she were "disrespecting" the judge.

Davenport said she believed that if the nine black jurors had read the stories in the Record they would punish her with an unjust verdict.

By the end of the hearing Davenport withdrew her motion for mistrial.

Record staff attempted to contact jurors for their insight into the allegations against the paper and about the trial in general, but was unable to solicit any comments.

Attorney James Woodruff II said he did not believe the Record's reporting influenced jurors.

"I have not been presented with any evidence to substantiate any such claims," the attorney wrote in an e-mail. "It is ridiculous to believe that your reporting had influence on the jury."

Joel Sprott, who defended Dr. Duane Larson, told the Record via e-mail that the jury made no statements to him regarding the Record articles.

Sprott declined to comment on the rest of the case, but wrote that he was "glad it's finally over."

The trial began on Dec. 1 and took many unusual turns.

On Jan. 6, 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. After the incident, a county deputy kept close watch on the trial – as the round up incident was only one of many dramatic episodes to take place during the trial – anticipating that the judge might hold attorneys involved in the case in contempt.

The judge never did opt for disciplinary action, even though he threatened both parties' counsel on several occasions. At least three times, Judge Floyd had his bailiff escort jurors out of his courtroom so he could privately admonish lawyers on both sides for acting unprofessionally.

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.

Case background

The trial centered 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.

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

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 were 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 sued for past and future lost wages, mental anguish and disfigurement.

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

Case No. E167-187

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