CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision today that members of a Clark County family may bring a malpractice lawsuit against Valley Hospital, even though their missing lawyer previously settled the case on their behalf.
The court found that the lawyer, Lawrence Davidson, committed a fraud on the court, the hospital and the Garner family when he took off with the $160,000 he had obtained from the hospital.
Hospital officials had wanted the court to rule the case was completed and the Garners were not entitled to file a new malpractice lawsuit.
Davidson forged the signatures of Clark Garner and three other family members who had sued the hospital for malpractice over the death of Bobby Garner in 1998 at age 69, according to court documents. The lawsuit contended that he died after he wasn’t reconnected to cardiac telemetry equipment after undergoing an MRI at the hospital. The lawyer has been missing since the end of 2005 and warrants are out for his arrest.
In the decision, Justice Kris Pickering said the family still may bring its malpractice case against Valley, but any final settlement amount must be deducted by the $160,000 the hospital paid.
In other words, if the family receives $1 million, then that amount must be reduced by $160,000.
The decision upholds a ruling made by District Judge Mark Denton.
Davidson fled before he was scheduled to go to trial in October 2006 in federal court on mail fraud and money laundering charges. He could have been sentenced to 50 years in prison on those charges.
In a November 2005 indictment, he was charged with fraudulently settling 17 cases on behalf of clients, putting their $936,000 in his bank account and then withdrawing the money for his personal use.
Davidson has been disbarred.
His father, developer Donald Davidson, received a two-year prison sentence last year in wake of charges he tried to bribe former City Councilman Michael McDonald in 2002. The son also faced a trial on bribery charges.
In the decision, Justice Kris Pickering said Davidson victimized not only the hospital, but also the Garners, who had no knowledge that he had settled the case by forging their signatures.
Pickering also said Lawrence Davidson “committed a fraud upon the court when he signed and submitted a stipulated judgment” that a judge signed and entered, terminating the Garners’ claims.
“ ‘Fraud upon the court’ has been recognized for centuries as a basis for setting aside a final judgment, sometimes even years after it was entered,” Pickering wrote in the decision.
She noted that as a lawyer, Davidson was considered an “officer of the court,” and “a lawyer’s criminal conduct should permit a claim to relief from judgment by a victimized client as well.”
Pickering noted to make signatures of the Garner heirs appear authentic, Davision even stole a notary stamp from a neighboring office and forged the notary’s signature.
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