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May 13, 2015

Judges award $5.7 million to doctor allegedly framed by hospital CEO

Daily Briefing

A California appeals court has sided with a doctor who claimed his former hospital retaliated against him by planting a gun in his car, the Orange County Register reports.

In 2013, a jury ordered Integrated Healthcare Holdings Incorporated (IHHI) to pay physician Michael Fitzgibbons $5.7 million after its former CEO allegedly framed him by planting a gun in his car.

Background on the case

In 2006, Fitzgibbons—an infectious disease specialist and former chief of staff at Western Medical Center (WMC)—was arrested in the hospital parking lot after police found a pair of black gloves and a handgun in his car. Police questioned Fitzgibbons and searched his car after an anonymous 9-1-1 call claimed that the doctor had brandished the gun in traffic.

DNA evidence from the gloves and gun exonerated Fitzgibbons, and he was never charged.

The arrest followed a series of disagreements between Fitzgibbons and the leadership of IHHI, which owns the Santa Ana hospital. Fitzgibbons and his attorney—Ted Mathews—alleged that IHHI's then-CEO, Bruce Mogel, had framed Fitzgibbons in an effort to silence him. 

Another look at the 'hospital hierarchy'

A business relationship

A judge later overruled the verdict against IHHI, saying Mogel's framing of Fitzgibbons was the result of a "personal grudge," and IHHI was not liable.

In the latest ruling, the appeals court disagreed, finding Mogel "acted within the scope of his employment by retaliating against Fitzgibbons" for his opposition to IHHI's purchase of WMC. Fitzgibbons welcomed the ruling, noting, "the only relationship between Mogel and I was a business relationship."

"I'm greatly appreciative … that I finally received some justice," Fitzgibbons says (Chandler, Orange County Register, 5/12).

The takeaway: An appeals court has upheld a ruling against a California hospital chain, which was found to be liable for retaliating personally against a doctor who was opposed to its business interests.

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