Remembering Peter

More than thirty years ago, I was asked to become involved in a case in which a husband and father of two small children in his 30’s went to a hospital for a heart attack. He had been mowing his lawn. When he eventually came back to his home, he had lost a portion of his stomach and one leg. A lot of depositions were taken to learn what had happened to produce this unusual result. After reviewing all the discovery, I kept coming back to one thing: Where was the doctor in the middle of the night when the sky was falling?

Peter had been seen at a hospital and treated for a heart attack with a medication, to which he had a bit of a reaction. He was then transferred to a second hospital, where he was seen by the same physician who turns out to be the defendant in the case, and who had also seen him at the first hospital.

As I prepared for trial, the issue of where was the cardiologist in the middle of the night (the residents were present) for what everyone agreed was an unusual reaction that they hadn’t previously seen. This being a Saturday night into Sunday morning, it became very interesting when a witness said that the doctor was wearing the same clothes when he came back Sunday morning as when he had been seen Saturday evening. That could suggest that the doctor never left the hospital, but everything was pointing the opposite way. Did he leave the hospital at night and not change clothes when he came back the next morning? Why would he do that if he had gone home?

The case went to trial and I called the doctor as an adverse witness, and established that this was a unique situation that he wouldn’t expect a resident to understand. I then turned on him and asked him in a very sharp voice what did he do when faced with this situation. I was convinced he had left the hospital, and I believed he hadn’t gone home to his family. I could tell from his expression that he knew that I suspected something, and rather than divulge everything he simply said that he had to get some sleep. And when I raised my voice in shock that he had left in the middle of this crisis, somehow everyone knew he hadn’t gone home, but he had left the hospital.

One of the most emotional moments in my trial practice occurred at the next break. My client, Peter, came up to me in the hallway. He was a big man. He pushed me against the wall holding onto my lapels as he did so. I thought I’d just done a good job and now it seemed that Peter was unhappy with me. He was literally shaking as he looked at me and said, “Thank you. Now I know what happened. Thank you.” We won the case and the jury made a very substantial award, which was helpful to Peter and his family for the rest of his days. Peter cared little about the money because he had learned what had happened to him. That was incredibly important to this man who had never received what seemed like a full explanation.

Peter lived for another 32 years; married to the same wonderful woman, with his two children and a granddaughter. His first grandson was born just a few days after Peter passed away last week. The name given to the baby boy? “Peter.”

Thank you, Peter, for letting me represent you, and rest in peace, my friend.

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