An associate lawyer who worked for attorney Noel Gage told jurors Friday that he could not understand why his boss failed to sue two surgeons who performed routine surgery that left a Las Vegas woman paralyzed in 2000.
“I can tell you it was always my opinion that they should be sued,” attorney Blaine Beckstead said.
Beckstead testified that Gage abruptly changed his legal strategy and went after an anesthesiologist shortly after he was introduced to self-proclaimed medical consultant Howard Awand, who worked with surgeons John Thalgott and Mark Kabins.
The federal government claims Gage cut a deal with Awand: If he did not sue the surgeons, Awand would refer to Gage more lucrative personal injury cases.
The government is contending at trial that Gage became involved in a web of Las Vegas doctors and lawyers who worked with Awand to jack up medical costs, to protect physicians from medical malpractice lawsuits and to share kickbacks to make millions of dollars.
Melodie Simon, who was left a paraplegic after a disc fusion went terribly wrong, won a $2.2 million settlement from lawsuits filed against anesthesiologist Dan Burkhead and Sunrise Hospital. But prosecutors claim Gage’s illicit relationship with Awand kept him from suing the surgeons, cheating Simon out of a potentially far more significant settlement.
Beckstead said Gage hired a retired doctor, William Barnes, to investigate the case and secure affidavits from surgeons who could prove that Simon’s paralysis was avoidable. Thal-gott testified Thursday that a tear in the sac protecting Simon’s spine caused internal bleeding, which pushed nerves against her spine.
Had Kabins performed an emergency operation when the problem was detected, Simon likely would not have suffered the catastrophic injury, But 11 hours elapsed between the time the bleeding was detected and when Kabins performed the surgery. Kabins has said hospital staff did not immediately notify him of Simon’s deteriorating condition.
Beckstead testified that Gage had a strong case and Barnes was making progress in securing the affidavits.
“I didn’t feel good about Dr. Kabins and Dr. Thalgott not being sued,” Beckstead said. “Dr. Barnes had an expert who was prepared to give an affidavit against them and I didn’t understand why we weren’t suing them.”
Shortly after Awand referred a personal injury case to Gage in September 2001, Gage directed Beckstead to discontinue contact with Barnes. That case, which involved a man who went in for kidney surgery and came out of the operating room in a permanent vegetative state, was ultimately settled for $18 million.
In May 2002, Beckstead said he was still convinced that Gage should sue the doctors. He sat in on a deposition with Gage and the two surgeons. He testified that Gage acted differently than he had in past deposition hearings.
“He was a good deposition taker; he always set things up,” Beckstead said. But that day “he seemed, I’d say, much too direct with his questioning.”
Beckstead said most notable was that Gage never asked either surgeon about the 11-hour delay that, if avoided, could have saved Simon from paralysis. Gage’s attorneys contend that the lawyer did not believe he had a case against the doctors and decided they would be more successful suing the anesthesiologist with the surgeons testifying on behalf of Simon.
Of the $2.2 million settlement, Simon received $1.3 million, which she said will not cover her continuing medical costs.
Gage’s trial is scheduled to continue Monday.
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 384-8710.