CVN screenshot of defense attorney Louis “Duke” DeHaas delivering his closing argument
Los Angeles, CA – A California state court jury has returned a verdict clearing a prominent neurosurgeon of all responsibility for a patient’s facial paralysis following an operation to remove a tumor, and the full proceedings were recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The Los Angeles County jury returned their verdict on February 14 following a lengthy trial that began in January. Plaintiff David Pullman sued Dr. Marc Schwartz following surgery in 2014 to remove an acoustic neuroma, a type of benign tumor that causes hearing loss and if left untreated can eventually put dangerous pressure on the brain.
Pullman accused Dr. Schwartz and the clinic he worked in at the time, The House Institute, of fraudulently pushing a form of invasive surgery that Pullman’s attorneys claimed was unnecessary and presented substantially greater risk than non-invasive “radio-knife” treatments. He also accused Schwartz of committing medical battery by allegedly violating the terms of the limited consent Pullman gave for the procedure, which Pullman maintained required Schwartz to halt the operation if the facial nerve showed any signs of damage.
Pullman, who attended court with plastic wrap around his head to protect his non-blinking eye, sought roughly $120 million in damages, but Schwartz’s defense team successfully argued that Schwartz, widely considered to be the nation’s leading expert in surgery for acoustic neuromas, performed the operation properly and that any damage to Pullman’s facial nerve was caused by an ENT surgeon that previously settled out of the case who initially opened the skull to give Schwartz access to the tumor.
The full trial, including all expert witness testimony, was recorded gavel-to-gavel by CVN. Subscribers to CVN’s online trial video library get unlimited on-demand access to the full proceedings, including hundreds of other civil trials from throughout the country in a wide range of practice areas.
Attorney Louis “Duke” DeHaas of LaFollette Johnson DeHaas Fesler & Ames told CVN after the trial that conversations with jurors following the verdict revealed Dr. Schwart’z presentation on the witness stand played a central role in securing a defense win.
“Everybody liked my doctor very much. They thought he was the most honest witness of all the witnesses that testified,” DeHaas remarked. “They said ‘he sold the case for you.’”
DeHaas believed jurors responded positively to Schwartz’s calm, vulnerable demeanor on the stand, noting that his willingness to criticize himself at times during his two-and-a-half days of testimony helped bolster his credibility.
That contrasted with what DeHaas characterized as a negative reaction from the jurors to the plaintiff teams’ two key expert witnesses. He said intensely cross-examining expert witnesses is a key part of his trial strategy. (CVN subscribers can watch DeHaas’ full cross-examinations during the trial firsthand).
“I have a motto that I kind of follow. If I have a good doctor and I present him right to the jury, and if I have a decent expert, I’m in the horse race,“ DeHaas said. “All I have to do is beat up the plaintiff’s experts. I have always prided myself on being very aggressive in cross-examining plaintiffs’ experts.”
DeHaas also suggested the jury found the $120 million in damages sought by the plaintiffs excessive. While Pullman’s attorneys argued his partial facial paralysis essentially rendered him a hermit and would require years of costly therapy, DeHaas did not feel the jurors agreed with the severity of his injuries.
“He doesn’t look like a $120 million plaintiff. I do a lot of brain damage baby cases, and they don’t even ask for that much,” DeHaas said. “They just thought he was trying to milk the cow basically. You can’t overreach even though you think you have a good case.”
According to DeHaas the plaintiffs initially made a $10 million policy limit demand, which they later reduced to $8 million. Schwartz’s lawyers countered with a $1 million “stat offer” – which under California law could allow them to recover expert witness fees that DeHaas estimated could total nearly $250,000.
Thomas Giuffra of Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP and Jamie Keeton of Schlichter Shonack & Keeton LLP, who represented Pullman, did not respond to a request from CVN for comment.
DeHaas credits “a lot of cramming” with helping him land a defense verdict after he took over the long-running complex case just weeks ago at the request of Schwartz’s insurance carrier after a partner became ill and on the heels of DeHaas completing four lengthy medical malpractice trials over the last five months.
Having graduated law school in 1966 and gone on to earn a reputation as one of the top veteran defense medmal attorneys in California, DeHaas said the stakes of the case in the context of his lengthy career hit home for him as he reviewed the extremely complex 17-page jury verdict form.
“This is the first case I thought I had a chance of losing,” he said.
The trial took place before Judge J. Stephen Czuleger.
The case is captioned David Pullman v. Marc Schwartz MD, case number BC597684 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.