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Case: Fuqua v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., No. 4:98-CV-1087-Y (N.D. Texas) Outcome: A jury awarded $312.71 million to the family of a woman who died from gross mistreatment at a nursing home. Wyvonne Fuqua was malnourished and suffered from 16 bed sores that rotted her skin away to the fat and muscle, in some cases exposing joints and bone. The court struck Horizon’s defenses after the health care company was caught hiding 15,000 boxes of records. The award included $310 million for punitive damages. Post-trial motions are being filed. What was the key factor for winning the trial? What we were able to do at the trial was to demonstrate that Horizon knowingly and deliberately operated Heritage Western Hills [Nursing Home] in an understaffed, undersupervised and undersupplied manner from 1994 through the time that Wyvonne Fuqua was taken from Heritage Hills on April 25, 1997. Another important aspect of the case was we were able to prove how Horizon would profit from the injuries it caused. For example, if a Horizon patient developed a pressure sore and the pressure sore required bandages or any type of ancillary care, [Horizon] owned the pharmacy company, the laboratory company and the wound-care company and then would bill the government for that at a huge markup. I think a key decision in the case was to place the lawsuit in federal court. We had originally filed it in state court. When we knew that Horizon would be engaging in this kind of [systematic] discovery abuse, we felt like a state court would not effectively be able to punish Horizon. What was the most difficult hurdle in the case? The most difficult hurdle was Horizon’s systematic discovery abuse. We were able to learn the fact that they had secreted records from a confidential source…. Horizon had been caught secreting evidence on a couple of occasions prior to the discovery of the secreted 15,000 boxes. By February 2000, Horizon had paid close to $25,000 in sanctions for discovery abuse…. Horizon admitted in filings with the court that even though it had been in possession of these documents since 1997, Horizon stored these documents without any kind of inventory. The indexing and inventory process would take years, and only at the end of that process would we begin to know what documents had been hidden from us. After we filed our motions for sanctions, we learned that Horizon had destroyed a number of these boxes after we filed our motions for sanctions…. Discovery abuse is disheartening, especially if you’re in a court where you don’t believe it’s going to be punished appropriately. Horizon made an offer of judgment for $3.5 million…. I think a lot of lawyers would jump at that just to get rid of all the problems and be done with Horizon…. Let me tell you we were disheartened. But we felt like, if we kept going, the truth would prevail and the court would finally get tired of the deception. What tip do you have generally for dealing with a jury? It is my view that trial lawyers make a mistake by trying to impress the jury with the skills and ability of the trial lawyer. A trial lawyer will sometimes use big words, will act in a phony manner, will try to look very successful to make the jury think he or she is very successful. It is my view that — based on all of the negative publicity against lawyers — that jurors are looking for lawyers who are passionate for their clients and who are sincere and who are not flashy, just common, ordinary people working very hard to represent an injured party. The other thing is we had this case absolutely prepared to the point it was seamless. No delays, no hunting for exhibits. We did not waste the jury’s time. We got in, told our story. We got out.

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