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Hospital lawyers claim they were ‘sandbagged’

Lawyers for Salem’s Lewis-Gale Medical Center hope to persuade the Supreme Court of Virginia they were unfairly surprised by a judge’s last-minute decision to allow emotional distress damages in a lawsuit filed by a former emergency physician. The doctor won a $900,000 verdict claiming the hospital got her fired from her medical practice group for supporting disgruntled nurses.

Arguments at a writ panel hearing this week focused on the decision by Roanoke Circuit Judge Jonathan Apgar to reverse an earlier ruling and allow a jury instruction on mental damages for the doctor’s claim of tortious interference with contract. Apgar’s ruling reportedly came after the close of evidence in the case.

At the writ panel hearing, Justice Donald Lemons had several questions about the case record, including an inquiry about defense motions for a mistrial or continuance. Hospital lawyer Frank Friedman said the timing of the judge’s ruling put the defense in a bind. “We were really blindsided, the way it turned out,” he said.

Decisions whether to grant appeals are generally made within a few days to a few weeks after oral argument.

By Peter Vieth

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