Transplant surgeon is defamed by surgical director at Loma Linda Medical Center. $1.5 million. San Bernardino County.

Summary

When a surgeon accuses his superior of manipulating an organ transplant priority list, he is fired and defamed to colleagues. Jury finds defamation against the surgical director. $1.5 million verdict is followed by confidential settlement before punitive damages phase.

The Case

  • Case Name: Hootan Roozrokh v. Michael deVera, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: San Bernardino Superior Court / CIVDS 1111210
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, January 23, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, October 04, 2011
  • Type of Action: Defamation
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Michael Sachs
  • Plaintiffs:
    Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, male, 40, transplant surgeon
  • Defendants:
    Dr. Michael deVera
    Dr. Herbert Ruckle
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,500,002
  • Net Verdict or Award: $1,500,002
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Jury found that defendant Dr. deVera defamed plaintiff, causing damage to his reputation; further, that he acted with malice, oppression or fraud.

    Defense verdict for Dr. Ruckle.

  • Economic Damages:

    $2

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $1,500,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 29 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 4 ½ days.
  • Jury Polls: 9/3 or 10/2 on critical liability questions. 12-0 on damages.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Case was resolved confidentially before punitive damages phase against Defendant deVera. There was a confidential settlement before arbitration with plaintiff's employer for allegations of wrongful termination and retaliation against a whistleblower.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman by V. James DeSimone, Venice.
    Law Offices of Vida M. Holguin by Vida M. Holguin, Hermosa Beach.
    Bohm Law Group by Lawrance Bohm, Sacramento. (Trial consultant)
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen by Roland Bainer, Corona.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Timothy Lanning , economist, Santa Ana.
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    Jubin Merati, economist, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff was a transplant surgeon employed by Faculty Medical Group at Loma Linda University Medical Center beginning in January 2010.  Defendant Dr. deVera was employed as the Surgical Director beginning in January 2011.

    Plaintiff's employment was terminated on April 15, 2011 after an investigation by the hospital into statements made by plaintiff and defendants regarding each others' actions as doctors at the hospital.

     

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That in February and March of 2011, plaintiff Dr. Hootan Roozrokh observed defendant Dr. Michael deVera commit ethical violations by manipulating the status of organ transplant patients to fraudulently obtain organs that should have gone to transplant patients higher on the transplant list at other hospitals.  Further, that he was ordered by defendant deVera to harvest an organ at Palmdale Regional Medical Center for a transplant patient at Loma Linda who defendant deVera had declared was Status 1 on the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) transplant list. 

    Plaintiff complained to his employer, the president of Faculty Medical Group of Loma Linda University Medical Center, Dr. Ricardo Peverini, that defendant Dr. deVera was acting “fraudulently” and “cheating” with respect to transplant patients at the Medical Center.  He also complained of a hostile work environment under Dr. deVera.

    That after plaintiff complained there was an investigation during which defendant Dr. deVera accused plaintiff of being incompetent, unfit to perform liver transplants and leaving a tumor in a patient and lying about it afterwards; further, that defendant Dr. Ruckle also made similar defamatory statements to the investigator. Further, that defendant deVera had repeated these same and other defamatory allegations to certain members of the hospital medical staff.

    Plaintiff also contended that Dr. deVera showed malice, hostility or ill will towards Dr. Roozrokh, overcoming any qualified privilege; that the statements led to the loss of his transplant surgeon position, damaged his reputation and interfered with his ability to find employment as a transplant surgeon.  

     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants contended the statements made by Dr. deVera about plaintiff were true; and if the statements were not true, they were not made with hostility or ill will.  

    Further, that Dr. deVera did not manipulate the status of patients on the UNOS transplant list, as corroborated by the testimony of four surgeons.  Further, that UNOS itself investigated the allegations and found no wrong doing.

     

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $229,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $4,200,000 to $6,700,000

Additional Notes

Per plaintiff's counsel:

Five of the doctors who testified corroborated Dr. Roozrokh’s allegations of ethical misconduct against Dr. deVera primarily involving two transplant patients, named through the trial as Patient N and Patient W, whose UNOS statuses, plaintiff alleged, were manipulated by Dr. deVera in an attempt to obtain organs that should have gone to sicker patients.  These ethical violations and the resulting investigation established Dr. deVera’s retaliatory motive. 

Plaintiff counsel says that the case turned on the video deposition testimony of Dr. Beverly Bolinger, a San Francisco Kaiser Surgeon, who testified that she never informed Dr. deVera that Dr. Roozrokh had lied about a surgery or lacked surgical judgment as Dr. deVera claimed. Dr. Roozrokh showed through his surgical operative reports that he had a 94% survival rate on liver transplants he performed at Loma Linda University Medical Center, above the benchmark survival rate of 80 to 84%. 

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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