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Rosner settles malpractice suit for $5 million

The defense team that represents controversial neurosurgeon Michael Rosner settled a malpractice lawsuit for $5 million, weeks after a Henderson County jury revisited a 2014 verdict and awarded a patient $2 million in damages.

The Superior Court outcome and the settlement come 19 years after the lawsuit was filed and eight years after a jury, after finding that Rosner had been negligent, awarded the patient’s husband just $1 in damages.
The lawsuit was filed on June 12, 2003, by Wade Byrd, a prominent personal injury attorney from Fayetteville, on behalf of Pamela Justus. After Pam Justus died in 2012 at age 58, her husband, Billy Justus, who has since died, became the plaintiff as the administrator of her estate. The lawsuit continued under the name of Adam Justus, administrator of his father’s estate.
After a six-week trial that ended in September 2014, a jury found that Rosner was negligent in performing surgeries on Justus that her attorneys called “experimental and unnecessary.” The jury found no wrongdoing by Park Ridge Hospital (now Advent Health), where Rosner had practiced since 1999. Although the jury awarded the Justus family $512,162 — the total amount of her medical bills — it then reduced the total to $1 based on what it described as Justus’s failure to do more to help herself in the post-surgery months and years after February 2001.

To N.C. Supreme Court and back

The case has climbed up and down the judicial ladder through appeals that have pitted Byrd against Scott Stevenson, a top-ranked medical malpractice specialist from Charlotte. The state Supreme Court order that the two sides meet again in a trial focusing on damages only set the stage for the resolution of the saga spanning almost 20 years. The plaintiff’s lawyers’ decision to shed Park Ridge as a defendant and focus sharply on Pam Justus’s injuries simplified the case.
“One was the case was streamlined and made much simpler,” Michael Easley, the former North Carolina governor, attorney general and district attorney who assisted Byrd in the 2014 trial and in April and May of this year, said in an interview Monday. “Trying to do the doctor and the hospital at the same time was just too much. And this was as focused a jury as I’ve seen.”
Eight years ago, the jury “gave her her medical bills and then they deducted that much based on smoking, because she was a smoker,” he said. “But this way, they got hear about a total focus case on what the doctor was doing and what the damages really were and then they decide what to do from there.”
Easley said he thought the plaintiffs did a better job this time showing how the injuries from Rosner’s surgeries had diminished Pam Justus’s life and ended her lifelong devotion to care-giving.
“We made it clear that she had a good life before this,” he said. “She had 20 foster children over time. She adopted two children with developmental disabilities and raised them. She raised money for people with no heat and for Christmas toys for children and things like that all over county. And she couldn't do that anymore. After this surgery, her life was changed dramatically. And this jury was able to see that and that's what they were compensating her for, those injuries.”

$5 million goes into plaintiffs' war chest

Still on the docket are almost two dozen similar malpractice lawsuits against Rosner. They’re assigned to Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges, a senior resident judge who traveled to Hendersonville for the trial on damages this spring.
“We’ve still got, we think, roughly 25 more patients that were given the same experimental, unnecessary surgery,” Easley said. “Wade filed the case in 2003 so he’s proved he’s as tenacious and persistent as any lawyer you’ll find. He’s planning on going forward with them, every one of them.”
The Justus family will not immediately receive the jury award. Byrd had worked out an agreement with all the plaintiffs that “whatever they recover goes into a pot for all the patients and then you use that to go forward with the next case and the next case and the next case, whether it’s against the doctor or the hospital,” Easley said.
The N.C. Medical Board suspended Rosner’s license from 2002 to 2004 and again in 2009, after he made a spinal-cord compression diagnosis that was “below acceptable and prevailing standards of medical practice in North Carolina, chiefly because this diagnosis was not supported by radiographic evidence.”
Easley said he did not know the whereabouts of Dr. Rosner but that he believed he is no longer practicing. He did not testify in the retrial. The Lightning was unable to reach Stevenson, his attorney.
Now that its war chest is stocked with $5 million, the team of trial lawyers led by Byrd expects to move ahead with the other lawsuit filed by patients who claim that Rosner’s surgeries severely harmed or disabled them.
“Main thing is, Wade’s going forward with the rest of these cases, with the hospital and Dr. Rosner,” Easley said.