Ind. SC tells cardiac surgeon to pay up

John O'Brien Apr. 9, 2008, 3:31pm



INDIANAPOLIS - A $325,000 judgment was appropriate compensation for an argument between a so-called "workplace bully" and a co-worker, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The Court affirmed the figure, based on the trial court's finding that Dr. Daniel Raess, a cardiovascular surgeon, assaulted co-worker Joseph Doescher at St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove.

Raess believed that not enough evidence existed from the incident to support the finding of assault and claimed the award was excessive.

"To the contrary, there is substantial evidence or reasonable inferences to support the jury's conclusions that an assault occurred, that the defendant acted with the requisite intent, and that the plaintiff's reaction was reasonable," Justice Brent Dickson wrote.

Doescher worked as an operating room perfusionist, operating a heart/lung machine during open heart surgeries, and reported Raess to the hospital administration about his treatment of other perfusionists.

Raess claimed that Doescher advanced on him "with clenched fists, piercing eyes, beet-red face, popping veins, and screaming and swearing at him," the opinion says.

"The plaintiff backed up against a wall and put his hands up, believing that the defendant was going to hit him... Then the defendant suddenly stopped, turned and stormed past the plaintiff and left the room, momentarily stopping to declare to the plaintiff, 'You're finished. You're history.'"

That testimony, the Court said, satisfied the burden of proof needed to support the assault claim. Doescher was denied on claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference with employment and punitive damages.

As for the award, the Court did not agree that the Doescher should have been denied any compensatory damages because his infliction of emotional distress claim failed.

Doescher claimed the incident detrimentally affected his career and earning capacity, as well as his ability to interact with his wife.

"Evidence was presented that, as of the time of the trial, the plaintiff could not return to his work as a perfusionist because of the resulting emotional response, lack of focus, lack of confidence and inability to make split-second decisions," Dickson wrote.

Both sides used psychiatrists to make their points, but the Court quoted case law that stated, "(I)f there is any evidence in the record which supports the amount of the award, even if it is variable or conflicting, the award will not be disturbed."

Only Justice Theodore Boehm disssented. He believed the testimony of Dr. Gary Namie was inadmissible.

Namie referred to Raess as a "workplace bully," which the defense had moved to have him barred from doing. The motion was denied in part and granted in part.

Boehm said the trial court allowed questioning related to "workplace bullying" even though it had warned Namie not to talk about it. His testimony, therefore, was prejudicial, Boehm said.

"Nowhere... does Dr. Namie explain what a workplace bully is," Boehm wrote. "Dr. Namie by his own testimony is not a clinical psychologist and is not qualified to testify as to how workplace bullying affected the plaintiff, and he did not testify on that subject.

"This is testimony characterizing an event, but offering no assistance to interpret or understand it. Without any context, the 'workplace bullying' label is nothing more than highly prejudicial name-calling of no help to the jury."

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