TRAVERSE CITY — Munson Healthcare and its attorney in a malpractice case face $54,000 in sanctions after pursuing a defense they knew to be in "fundamental conflict" with undisclosed facts that explained a surgical patient's injury, state appellate judges ruled.
The Court of Appeals of Michigan decision last month is the latest wrinkle in a long-running legal battle that began when Jeanne Harrison awoke from surgery in 2007 to find a mysterious, quarter-sized burn on her arm.
Harrison's dissatisfaction with Munson's explanation for how a surgical device called a "Bovie" caused the wound eventually led to a malpractice case. In 2011, 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers declared a mistrial after he believed an internal incident report contradicted Munson Healthcare and its East Lansing lawyer Thomas R. Hall's contention no one knew how the burn occurred.
Harrison settled with Munson for an undisclosed sum, but the hospital and Hall appealed Rodgers' sanctions. The appellate judges upheld Rodgers' ruling and found Munson and Hall violated state law and ethics rules by knowingly presenting a defense at odds with facts laid out in the internal report.
"Honestly, this is my 24th year on the bench and I've never seen anything like it before or since," Rodgers said of the case.
Paul Shirilla, Munson's vice president and general counsel, said hospital officials are "disappointed" with the ruling and plan to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. He disagreed that the internal "peer review" information showed the hospital offered an "inappropriate" defense.
"There's nothing in the peer review information that's inconsistent with the defense presented to the court," he said.
The appellate judges' opinion outlines how Munson and Hall argued before trial that no one in the operating room remembered the incident and asserted the Bovie device must have dislodged from a holster and accidentally burned Harrison.