YouTube Video Appears to Show W. Va. Medical Malpractice Evidence

August 10, 2007

HCA Inc. had nothing to do with the video posted on the Internet showing sealed evidence from several of the 122 medical malpractice cases against a former West Virginia osteopathic physician, lawyers have told a judge.

A civil jury found Putnam General Hospital negligent last week for hiring Dr. John A. King. That verdict exposes the hospital to the lawsuits alleging King harmed or even killed patients through unnecessary surgery and other malpractice during his six months there. He left in mid-2003.

The video, posted on the popular share site YouTube, purports to show videotaped pretrial deposition testimony from six of the plaintiffs. For five of those plaintiffs, it also shows apparent surveillance video or photos in an apparent effort to contradict their claims.

The three-minute video appeared online June 26, more than three weeks after Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding barred both sides from releasing any information from the cases.

Todd Thompson, a Kentucky lawyer representing the defense, told Spaulding that Nashville-based HCA and Putnam General have obeyed his June 8 order.

“I contacted HCA and can confirm that it has not disseminated any evidentiary materials since this Court’s ruling,” Thompson said in a letter. “I further confirmed that no one at HCA had knowledge of the posting of the videotape depositions and videotape surveillance of the six plaintiffs until the postings were disclosed…” in news reports.

Spaulding issued his order after the release of another video related to the cases, also via YouTube. It purported to show surveillance of one claimant, apparently to debunk her claims — but actually was of someone else.

Spaulding’s ruling prevents either side from commenting on whether the surveillance in the June 26 video depicts actual plaintiffs. Each appears filmed from a distance. One of the subjects is wearing a hood.

State ethics rules prohibit the out-of-court release of information that relates to the character, credibility or reputation of a witness, or “the expected testimony of a party or witness.”

The video that helped trigger the judge’s ruling had apparently been released by a media consultant hired by the defense. Thompson told Spaulding that he had relayed the judge’s gag order both to that firm and to The Center for Individual Freedom.

The center, a Virginia-based group that supports lawsuit limits, had trumpeted the earlier video in an e-mail campaign before Spaulding issued his order. Two other groups, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, both mentioned the new video in July 20 e-mails to The Associated Press.

Both touted the video as evidence of lawsuit abuse. The foundation, a free-market group based in Washington state, did not respond to requests for comment last week. Mike Spence, vice president of the GOP group, said he found the video’s content troubling.

Spence said he had been researching the topic of lawsuit abuse when he found the video on YouTube. He said he had not received it or been in contact with anyone involved in the malpractice cases.

HCA Inc. sold Putnam General last year to Charleston Area Medical Center. Not a defendant in the lawsuits, CAMC operates the 65-bed hospital as CAMC Teays Valley.

Also last year, King changed his name to Christopher Wallace Martin in his native Alabama, where he now reportedly lives.

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