Medical malpractice trials often turn on the testimony of the defendant health care provider. And in an interview with CVN, Searcy Denney’s Ed Ricci and Matt Schwencke detailed how they turned a defendant physician’s own cross-exam testimony against him to win a $4.9 million med mal verdict.
Samuel Gray had his left leg amputated below the knee after being hospitalized for a blood clot. Gray’s attorneys, Ricci and Schwencke, argued the defendant physician, Dr. Panagiotis Iakovidis, did not properly treat an acute clot in time to save the leg. Iakovidis argued that a chronic arterial condition forced the amputation.
“We knew and suspected that he would have had his deposition completely committed to memory, so that there was going to be nothing that I was going to be able to really trip him up on that was in his deposition,” Ricci said. “So we made the deliberate decision that I might ask some questions from the depo just to sort of establish...a few important points. But beyond that, I wanted to go off script so to speak , and really ask him questions from the records that he could not refute.”
Ricci had the doctor define several terms relevant to whether Gray’s clot was acute or chronic. For example, Ricci had Iakovidis define “patent,” meaning open, when used in describing a blood vessel. It was the same term used in an angiogram to describe the blood vessels in Gray’s leg apart from the clot site. Ricci then used Iakovidis’s own definitions when highlighting those records to undercut the claim that a chronic condition led to the loss of the leg.
Ricci also had Iakovidis define the term “stat,” meaning right away, and later repeatedly asked Iakovidis if he felt he should have seen Gray as soon as he was notified of the patient’s condition. Iakovidis denied he needed to see Gray sooner than he did. And in closings, Ricci highlighted an ER record showing a “stat” consult ordered for a vascular surgeon—Iakovidis.
“‘Stat’. It’s in the record,” Ricci argued in closings. "Vascular surgeon—Dr. Iakovidis sitting right here. Notified in ER. It was a stat consult from the ER physician. [Iakovidis] denied it three times, but the evidence suggests otherwise, doesn’t it?”
Schwencke said he believed the cross-exam put visible pressure on Iakovidis. “When Ed’s having him define these terms, he’s up there and he’s just stroking his mustache, like a nervous tic in poker,” Schwencke said. “And he was defining the terms for Ed, and he was thinking in the back of his mind, ‘Where’s he going with this?’ And Ed hit him right over the head with it.”
Schwencke added that he believes overcoming jurors’ natural trust of physicians is vital to winning a medical malpractice trial. “I think [jurors] want to find a reason to like the doctor and side with the doctor, so when you’re suing a doctor, you have to overcome that obstacle,” Schwencke said. “Ed and I… the malpractice trials that we’ve won, I think in every one we’ve gotten the defendant almost in like an aha moment.”
Ricci and Schwencke’s thoughts on the cross-exam are just a part of a wide-ranging interview with CVN about the trial and their approach to medical malpractice cases. The full interview is part of CVN Discovery, a free series that takes you beyond the courtroom, to discussions with the best attorneys across the country about the techniques that won their biggest trials.
You can watch the full interview with Ed Ricci and Matt Schwencke. You'll also get access to future attorney interviews breaking down their courtroom approaches. And it's all free.