A California appeals court has upheld $5.7 million jury verdict for a physician’s emotional distress claim against a hospital CEO.
Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons is an infectious disease specialist who was a former chief of staff of Western Medical Center (Western Med) in Santa Ana, California. He brought a lawsuit against Integrated Healthcare Holdings Incorporated (IHHI) after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and insomnia due to the incidents of retaliation by its CEO, Bruce Mogel.
A jury found that Mogel had retaliated against Fitzgibbons while within the scope of his employment as the CEO of IHHI. A trial court later threw out the jury verdict, finding that Mogel’s “personal grudge against Fitzgibbons” was not within the “course and scope of his employment” with IHHI and that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury findings that IHHI was liable for Mogel’s conduct.
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A four-judge panel of the California Appeals court restored the original jury verdict, ordering IHHI to pay Dr. Fitzgibbons $5.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Fitzsimmons protested the 2005 sale of the Western Med hospital to IHHI because he believed it did not have the financial resources to safely operate the hospital. He convinced a state senator to hold public hearings on the company's acquisition of the hospital, resulting in agreements between IHHI and hospital staff regarding efforts to maintain the hospitals safety.
When the IHHI defaulted on a loan used to purchase the hospital two months after the purchase, Fitzsimmons sent an email to the hospital officers and staff alerting them of the default and decreased hospital admissions.
IHHI sued him for defamation, breach of contract and intentional interference with a contract. Fitzsimmons' motion to strike the complaint was granted on an appeal, and the court ordered IHHI to pay for Dr. Fitzgibbons $150,000 attorney’s fees in mid-June of 2006.
IHHI’s CEO, Bruce Mogel, upset by the decision, declared he was going to “humble” Fitzgibbons and stated he “could have [things] done to people he was displeased with,” according to court documents.
In late-June of 2006, police arrested Fitzgibbons at the hospital after an anonymous 911 call had reported a man matching his description had brandished a gun at another driver during a road rage incident. Fitzgibbons gave the police permission to search his car, where they found a loaded handgun and a pair of gloves.
During his arrest, Fitzgibbons protested that he was being framed by IHHI because he had recently defeated them in court. No charges were brought against Fitzgibbons because his DNA was not found on the weapon, according to court documents.
The following month, Fitzgibbon's daughter was involved in a serious accident when her call rolled over on the freeway due to a tire blowout. An investigation of her car revealed a slash in the blown out tire. When Fitzgibbon's wife attempted to drive to her daughter and the scene of the accident, she found that one of her tires was also flat.
Former president of IHHI, Larry Anderson, was involved in litigation with IHHI over compensation owed to him and control of IHHI in 2007 and 2008. During these proceedings, Anderson disclosed information about Mogel’s threats against Fitzgibbons and his suspicions that Mogel was involved in Fitzgibbon's arrest. Anderson’s disclosure prompted Fitzgibbons to file the lawsuit against IHHI for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The case is Fitzgibbons v. Integrated Healthcare Holdings, Inc. Case no. 30-2008-00108081 in the Fourth appellate District California Court of Appeal.