Even the most shocking testimony can be lost amid the sheer volume of evidence a jury sees over the course of a long trial. Delivering a powerful closing reminder of pivotal testimony is nearly as important as eliciting the testimony itself. In a 2017 Georgia medical malpractice trial, Lloyd Bell used critical inconsistencies in a key witness’s testimony to build a theme for his closing and deliver an eight-figure verdict. Williams v. St. Francis Hospital, SC14CV882.
Sandra Williams suffered catastrophic brain damage after going without sufficient oxygen for at least 20 minutes while being treated for a hematoma, or blood clot, that had closed off her trachea, just days after a successful neck surgery.
In a claim against Columbus, Georgia's St. Francis Hospital, where Williams was treated, the Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell argued Dr. Erick Westerlund, the hospital’s on-call physician, failed to promptly treat Williams, leading to her collapse.
Bell opened his case-in-chief by questioning Westerlund’s medical partner and the physician who had performed Williams’ neck surgery, Dr. Thomas Walsh. In a tenacious round of questioning, Bell dramatically undercut Walsh’s statement that Westerlund had properly treated Williams by walking Walsh through testimony he gave in a factually similar Alabama case where he concluded that doctor’s treatment was improper.
Moreover, Bell hammered Walsh on inaccurate statements he made in that Alabama case when comparing Williams’ treatment with the treatment of the Alabama patient.
In his closing argument more than a week later, Bell ensured that crucial testimony would not be drowned out by other evidence the jury had heard.
“This may have been the shocking part of the trial,” Bell told jurors as he put up a large poster board with Walsh’s face inside an outline of the state of Alabama, the state’s name written in bright red letters. “Dr. Walsh testified in support of his partner. Remember that?” Bell asked.
Bell then walked jurors step-by-step through the critical portions of Walsh’s testimony, highlighting each inconsistency between the conclusions he gave in Williams’ case and the nearly identical Alabama fact situation that did not involve his partner, Westerlund.
When he reached the portion of the Alabama testimony in which Walsh compared the Alabama doctor’s treatment to Westerlund’s treatment of Williams, Bell became more forceful. Bell read from the Alabama testimony in which Walsh claimed Westerlund “saw [Williams] and promptly admitted her to the intensive care unit.”
“Benh!” Bell said, making a buzzing noise. “He lied. He lied in Alabama. He lied. Everybody, this is not what happened,” Bell added. “He’s protecting his partner, putting the truth on the back burner.”
Then Bell continued quoting from the Alabama testimony on which he’d grilled Walsh. “Within 10 minutes of arrival to the intensive care unit, she all of a sudden couldn’t breathe at all,” Bell read.
“Benh!” Bell buzzed. “Second lie. It gets worse.”
Then Bell raised the issue he said was likely in jurors’ minds. “Why is Dr. Walsh in Alabama telling these lies to protect his partner?
“Because he knows the truth is… his partner did the exact same thing that he was testifying against a doctor for doing in Alabama.”
Bell went on to remind jurors of Walsh’s seemingly nonchalant response to whether he had simply fabricated some of his claims about Williams when he had testified in the Alabama case. “‘What are you going to do to me?’ is what I heard in his voice,” Bell said.
“Here you’re just making up stuff to help your partner. You’re making up stuff to help your hospital,” Bell said. “Which is what this was really all about. Dr. Walsh, the folks at St. Francis are about St. Francis. They’re about the connections, they’re about the network, they’re about protecting themselves.”
Bell’s closing ensured the Walsh testimony was fresh in jurors’ minds during deliberations, and they returned with a $26 million verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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