Defense verdict reached in med mal trial

By Steve Gonzalez | May 12, 2006

Richard Hunsaker

Mary Jo Kuca

After a nine-day medical malpractice trial, a Madison County jury delivered a defense verdict, ruling late Thursday night that Troy Dr. Dolores Cantrell met the standard of care in treating William Hoppe, II.

The jury deliberated nearly four hours after hearing three hours of closing arguments earlier in the day.

One juror remarked that plaintiff's attorney Morris Chapman "talked about everything but his case."

"All he could do was try to disgrace the defense team for doing their job," the juror said.

Pamela Hoppe, as special administrator of the estate of William Hoppe II, filed suit against Cantrell on Feb. 27, 2004, claiming she misdiagnosed her husband's unstable angina on July 18, 2003, which caused his death the next day.

Hoppe claimed that Cantrell failed to adequately and promptly treat the angina and failed to send her husband to a cardiologist for immediate help.

Pamela Hoppe died shortly after filing her case which led to Carolyn Schur, the children aunt, taking over as administrator of both estates.

"This is not a fair playing field in the first place," Chapman told the jury during closing arguments, referring to Madison County.

He said that the "propaganda" being run by the insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would have one to believe that "all lawyers are crooks."

He told the jury that the "hellhole" label placed on Madison County was due to defense lawyers thinking they were not on the same playing field.

"I am worried about the 13th juror," Chapman said pointing to a reporter from the Record in the courtroom.

Chapman told the jury that any juror who lets the 13th juror influence them would have "violated their trust as a juror" and that anyone doing that "should be reported."

He then went on to add that all Cantrell had to do was "simply recognize the problem" and this trial would not be taking place in the first place.

Chapman criticized defense attorney Richard Hunsaker of Heyl Royster for being a "bean counter."

"Every detail has to come out with this guy," Chapman said, causing several jurors to chuckle.

"All this lady had to do was send Hoppe tp the hospital and she was out of trouble," Chapman said.

"She did not give this man a chance to save his life."

"She was not candid enough to say, I made a mistake," Chapman said. "(Former U.S. President) Nixon lost everything because he did not admit his mistakes."

Then appealing to one of the jurors, a teacher, Chapman went a different direction and started to talk about how "these people" have an agenda to kill the public school system with charter schools.

Chapman criticized Hunsaker's firm because of its size.

"I don't have 48 people or the money," he said. "All I want is a fair trial, I am not entitled to anything else."

"I have been after social justice my whole life," Chapman said. He told jurors about the people he helped all over the world including China and Trinidad.

Chapman also talked about the time when he went to Jackson, Miss. to represent a black man when it was an unpopular thing to do.

He went on to say that unions are being destroyed and that corporations refuse to give employees raises.

"They (corporations) don't care about you," Chapman said.

Chapman told the jury that the reason he had to get doctors outside of the Metro-East to testify was because doctors in this area are friends of Cantrell's and that Barnes Hospital, which is owned by Washington University, will not let their doctors testify for plaintiffs without permission first.

Chapman told the jury that they are not trying to end Cantell's career. He told the jury that if they rule against Cantrell that she will not lose her license or "anything along those lines."

"She is not a bad doctor, she made a mistake and you have to pay the penalty for your mistakes," Chapman said comparing it to when you get a ticket and have to pay a fine.

According to the lawsuit, at the time of his death, William was survived by his wife and two teenage children who claim they have been deprived of large sums of money and valuable services he would have provided.

The Hoppe children also were represented by Rocco Maresse.

Dr. Cantrell was also represented by Mary Jo Kuca of Heyl Royster.

Maresse, who in addition to his law license has a license to practice medicine, started closing arguments for the Hoppe children.

He began by thanking jurors for their service and told them that he would appreciate if they would not interpret the raising of his voice during the questioning of witnesses as hostility towards the witness. During trial, he said, emotions can run high.

Maresse then told the jury that Dr. Cantrell should have sent Hoppe to the hospital or a cardiologist the day that he appeared in her Troy office.

He reminded the jury that Cantrell also should have given Hoppe an aspirin while he was seen.

Hoppe told Cantrell that he was having chest pains, elbow pain, sweating and shortness of breath, according to testimony.

According to Hunsaker, Cantrell ordered an EKG on the spot, which came back normal and then scheduled a stress test, urine test, lipid profile, CBC, Chem 12, and ultra-sound and x-rays for the next business day at a local hospital.

Hoppe also allegedly reported to Cantrell that the chest pain lasted 10-15 minutes and that on onc occasion prior to his visit he took a Rolaids tablet which seemed to help.

During closing, Maresse contended that the EKG Cantrell performed that came back normal was insignificant because Cantrell did not know how to properly read the test in the first place.

Maresse also accused Cantrell of moving from place to place during her 20 years of practice, and during her time on the witness stand attempted to give testimony that was not inquired of her.

Maresse also told the jury that Cantrell had a "cavalier" approach toward the standard of care and that the standard of care is the same for each doctor regardless of the field of medicine they choose to practice.

Cantell operates a family practice office.

During Hunsaker's closing, he told the jury, "We expect doctors to treat routine symptoms in a routine manner, those are Mr. Maresse's words. Remember those words."

He pointed out to the jury that he did not yank papers away from witnesses and tell witnesses to shut up or be quiet when they appeared in court.

Hunsaker told the jury that issues in judgment were whether a family practitioner should have concluded unstable angina and if Hoppe's death was from unstable angina or an arythmia which is sudden and unpredictable.

"I submit to you, that the cause of death was not unstable angina," Hunsaker said.

Hunsaker told the jury that the symptoms Hoppe presented to Cantrell were not consistent with unstable angina.

He said that Hoppe's EKG was normal and pointed out that if she could not read the test properly how was she able to point out the diagram that the plaintiffs' expert presented was missing a key part, which was added when pointed out by Cantrell.

Hunsaker also said that Hoppe's blood pressure was normal, he did not have chest pain during his visit with Cantrell, he had a work-related injury to his right rib, he reported symptoms of a GI problem, he lacked a family history of heart attacks, and he was able to function in normal every day activities.

He also pointed out that Cantrell did not give Hoppe an aspirin because she thought he may have an ulcer and an aspirin could have caused a GI bleed which could have killed him.

"Dr. Cantrell's job was to gather all the evidence before she could make her diagnosis," Hunsaker said. "She ordered more tests to gather this information."

He also pointed out that doctors are constantly at risk today and said his client does not want to become a cookbook doctor.

Hunsaker also pointed out that while Cantell did move her office from Edwardsville to Troy, the part that Maresse left out was that the Hoppe family continued to seek care from her, along with many other patients.

He also pointed out that Cantrell was allowed to rely on the symptoms Hoppe told her to make her decisions regarding his medical treatment.

"If she cannot rely on what a patient tells her, ladies and gentlemen, we have a big problem.

Hunsaker also told the jury that Cantrell had a right to take into consideration that Hoppe increased his alcohol intake slightly and the tenderness in his abdomen was also allowed to be considered.

"Look at the facts," Hunsaker said. "You cannot just look at the fact he died the next day."

Hunsaker also talked about Hoppe's 13 year-old-daughter's testimony the day before. He told the jury that it was a "challenge" for him because in fact Christian did suffer a tremendous loss.

"But Mr. Chapman in his attack mode, accused Cantrell of calling her a liar.

Chapman called Christian to the stand as a rebuttal witness on Wednesday and told the jury that prior to his appointment on July 18, her mother told Cantrell that her father was having chest pain. She said Cantrell told them to make an appointment so that she could see him.

Christian said she was in the room during the conversation, however, Dr. Cantrell testified that she did not see Christian in the room during that conversation.

Hunsaker asked Christian why during her deposition did she not mention this when he asked her if she remembered her father's condition the two weeks prior to his death.

"Christian's story is not plausible," he told the jury.

He then added that the person who made appointments at Cantrell's office made a side note which stated heartburn and check blood pressure.

He then pointed out that the plaintiffs' expert doctors are cardiologists, not board certified in family practice and that they do not treat or see patients with GI problems.

Hunsaker said that Dr. Gerald Lee from Kansas City, Mo. was a "hired gun" and that he has made about $20,000 a year since 1979 testifying for plaintiff lawyers.

Hunsaker added that Lee could not even remember the name of a single party in any of the other cases in which he has testified.

"How credible is that?" Hunsaker remarked, reminding the jury that Lee testified that he lost his list of the other cases he testified in.

He also pointed out that Lee left his practice in 1999.

Hunsaker then told the jury that their other witness, Dr. Randolph Martin of Springfield makes around $30,000 a year testifying for plaintiffs and that he sells his services on the Internet after a different business failed.

"He is using our system to make money," Hunsaker said. He also pointed out that Martin was critical of Cantrell even before reading the three depositions she gave and when he did read them, he only read about 19 pages out of nearly 100 pages.

Hunsaker then highlighted his experts: Dr. Benico Barzilai, from Washington University made only $1,800 last year testifying, he told the jury.

He also added that his other witness, Dr. Pritchett from Mascoutah, testified that Cantrell not only met the standard of care in treating Hoppe, but exceeded the standard.

Hunsaker added that this was the first trial Pritchett had ever testified in.

After Circuit Judge Daniel Stack read the jury instructions and the jurors went to deliberate, the alternate juror told the Record that she predicted the case could go either way.

Once the verdict was read by Stack, Christian Hoppe broke down in tears.

Once the jurors left the courtroom and the trial was adjourned, Carolyn Schur asked Hunsaker and Kuca to tell Cantrell, who was absent from the verdict that, "All she had to do was send him to the hospital. Tell her she is going to have to live with his death the rest of her life."

She declined to officially comment for this article and left the courtroom with Christian.

One juror who asked not to be named said, "We felt the doctor did everything she could with the information she had."

"This was a tough case, it was a very emotional case, my heart just really goes out to that entire family, they lost both parents and this is tragic, but the evidence showed the doctor did her job."

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