In a surprising twist, stingy jurors found in the favor of the plaintiff in a case against HealthSouth on Friday, Oct. 23, but declined to award any money.
For the past few weeks, the Southeast Texas Record has been reporting on the trial of Dr. Brent Mainwaring vs. Dr. James King and HealthSouth Corp. over the doctors' defunct medical practice.
Testimony focused on a $40,000 Mercedes given to a female HealthSouth employee as a Christmas present.
The expensive gift ultimately resulted in a fractured medical partnership, a doctor's termination, an FBI investigation and finally a civil trial in a Jefferson County court.
Dr. Mainwaring, who once partnered with Dr. King to provide radiological services to HealthSouth, sued King and their ruined partnership, Advanced Imaging Associates, a year after King was terminated for lying to federal investigators in 2005, court papers say.
The suit spawned counter suits and eventually came to envelop a third party, HealthSouth, which Mainwaring claimed unfairly terminated Dr. King and caused their partnership to dissolve.
Jurors were asked to decide if HealthSouth "intentionally interfered with the contract between Dr. Mainwaring and Dr. King."
After two days of deliberations, jurors found that HealthSouth did interfere but acted on "a good faith belief that it had a right to do so," and choose not to award any damages to Mainwaring.
The trial began Tuesday, Oct. 14, in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.
According to court records and testimony, in 2003 King and Mainwaring bought Kim Kettle, a former Health South employee, a brand new Mercedes Benz for Christmas.
The gift sparked concern among HealthSouth officials, but after determining that the present was not an act of bribery, higher ups allowed her to keep the $40,000 car, even though such gifts are against company policy, court papers say.
"I was not aware of HealthSouth's gift policy at the time," Mainwaring testified, adding that Kettle was not in any kind of position of power to further his business and the present was simply meant as a gift for all her hard work.
A year later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating HealthSouth - which had been involved in a corporate accounting scandal a few years prior - and unearthed the $40,000 present to Kettle, testimony and court records show.
During the investigation, King and Kettle lied about the present. Kettle eventually came clean and King was suspended, testimony and court records show.
However, King refused to stay home "and disrupted HealthSouth constantly" while suspended, forcing the clinic to terminate his contract 30 days after the start of his suspension, said HealthSouth attorney James Old Jr.
"Dr. King lied," Old said during opening remarks. "We find situations every day where people get divorced from reality ... and think they are above the law."
Old added that a clause in King's contract gave HealthSouth the right to terminate him if he broke the rules.
An independent audit of HealthSouth determined Kettle, by law, was required to pay the doctors back for the car.
Kettle obtained a loan but, according to his testimony, Mainwaring did not want the money and instead took two sheets of paper as payment for the car.
Kettle was fired following the FBI investigation, court papers show.
In his suit, Mainwaring alleged HealthSouth and King are both responsible for destruction of Advanced Imaging Associates, costing him perhaps millions of dollars.
Mainwaring was represented in part by local attorney Brain Sutton of the Sutton and Jacobs law firm.
King was represented by attorney Keith Kebodeaux.
HealthSouth was represented by James Old, an attorney for the Germer Gertz law firm.
Case No. A176-613