Embattled Doctor Owes $5.2 Million to Amputee

     DALLAS (CN) – A man who lost his limbs to pneumonia can collect $5.2 million from a doctor sued earlier this month for allegedly firing his receptionist when she refused his orders to get an abortion, a Texas appeals court ruled.
     The judgment stems from a 2005 negligence complaint that David Fritzgerald filed after surgery for an ulcer led him to contract pneumonia and gangrene that ultimately required doctors to amputate his arms below the elbow and his legs below the knee.
     Fritzgerald claimed that administration of Vancomycin on the first day he presented symptoms would have prevented his tragic condition.
     RHD Memorial Medical Center, a pulmonary critical care physician and a hospitalist settled the claims, leaving Fritzgerald to go to trial against Meenakshi Prabhakar, an infectious disease doctor; his Dallas-based practice, Infectious Disease Doctors PA; and the admitting physician, Richard Holmes.
     Though Holmes beat out the charges, a jury found Prabhakar 100 percent responsible and entered a verdict of more than $17 million. In light of a statutory damages cap, credits from the settling defendants and other factors, the 160th Judicial District Court ultimately reduced the award to $5.2 million.
     Prabhakar and his practice sought to overturn the jury’s award, but the Fifth District of Texas Court of Appeals affirmed Friday.
     Expert witness testimony over the cause and treatment of Fritzgerald’s illness “is legally sufficient to support the jury’s answers with regard to the settling defendants’ liability,” Justice Elizabeth Lang-Miers wrote for a three-member panel.
     Prabhakar brought his own experts to dispute Fritzgerald’s claims about the untimely administration of Vancomycin, but the jury had the “liberty to resolve the conflict and did so in Fritzgerald’s favor,” according to the 13-page decision.
     “Additionally, we conclude that the evidence contrary to the finding is not so overwhelming as to render the finding clearly wrong and manifestly unjust,” Lang-Miers wrote.
     Though Prabhakar said the facts do not support the jury’s finding that quicker treatment could have saved Fritzgerald’s limbs, the appellate panel disagreed.
     “Having reviewed the record, we cannot conclude that the evidence supporting the jury’s finding that Prabhakar’s negligence proximately caused Fritzgerald’s injuries is so weak as to make the finding clearly wrong and manifestly unjust,” Lang-Miers wrote.
     Prabhakar did persuade the court to let him make payments on the portion of the award meant for future medical expenses. In this respect, the trial court should have considered that Prabhakar provided evidence of financial responsibility since he showed a $2.5 million line of credit with Bank of America.
     “The purpose of requiring the defendant to provide evidence of financial responsibility is for the court to determine whether some periodic payments rather than a lump sum payment should be awarded,” Lang-Miers wrote. “When the defendant provided evidence that he could and would provide funds adequate to assure full payment of damages, and the evidence was not refuted, the condition to authorizing periodic payments was satisfied.”
     August has been a bad month for Prabhakar who faces a discrimination complaint in Dallas County Court from former receptionist Christina Garcia.
     “Dr. Prabkahar told plaintiff that (she) would have to have an abortion to keep her job,” the Aug. 7 complaint states. “When plaintiff refused, (she) was fired on March 7, 2011.”
     “Dr. Prabhakar offered to pay for the abortion and for college expenses provided that plaintiff would take birth control pills,” Garcia says.

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