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Radiologist In Retrial; $11 Million Win Set Aside

September 12, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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A radiologist who won a jury award of more than $11 million only to see judges take it away is again pursuing his claims of wrongful termination.

A retrial began last week in Los Angeles Superior Court over the claims of Michael Martinucci, MD, that he was forced to resign from a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hollywood because of false accusations.

Dr. Martinucci began work at the hospital in January 2003. According to court records, he created, at the hospital’s request, protocols for scans in the radiology department. He pushed technologists and clerks to improve their work. Not surprisingly, some of those he criticized reacted with resentment. In the retrial, his attorney, Charles Matthews, said in an opening statement:

They set him up and [forced him out] because he wouldn’t shut up.

Matthews was quoted in a San Marino Tribune story about the retrial.

Barbara Johnson, an attorney for Kaiser Permanente, said Dr. Martinucci was forced to resign in February 2006 because he inappropriately touched a male co-worker, was heard using ethnic slurs (Dr. Martinucci is white), and tried to interfere with an investigation into the accusations:

He talked to some witnesses after being told not to.

Dr. Martinucci said the accusations were fabricated by those whose work he criticized. Sometimes, patients had to be called back to the hospital to have X-rays retaken because imaging work was so poor, Matthews said during the retrial.

Dr. Martinucci sued Kaiser Permanente in 2007, alleging wrongful termination. A 2008 trial ended with a verdict in favor of the radiologist and an award of $3.9 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages.

However, Judge Mary Thornton House ruled after the trial that the compensatory award was excessive and may have been influenced by an incorrect instruction that she had given the jury. The judge also ruled that the punitive award was not supported by clear and convincing evidence of malice on the part of Kaiser Permanente.

Dr. Martinucci appealed. A panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with House’s post-verdict rulings. It threw out the punitive award and ordered a retrial.

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A radiology technician gets a 30-year sentence for stealing drugs intended for patients and infecting some patients with hepatitis C in the process. For details, see our Facebook page.

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