Trial begins in surgeon’s suit against EMMC, fellow doctor

Posted July 12, 2010, at 12:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:36 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A civil jury trial pitting a former pediatric surgeon against Eastern Maine Medical Center and its pediatric gastroenterologist began Monday in U.S. District Court.

Dr. Kristine Thayer of Hampden, who now works as a general surgeon at the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, has claimed that Dr. Mohammad Tabbah of Hampden made defamatory statements about her to a patient’s mother and that the hospital retaliated against her for raising questions about Tabbah’s clinical compe-tence.

Thayer also claimed the hospital violated the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act when her supervisors asked her to modify her behavior in a “corrective action plan” that included seeking evaluation and recommendations by a psychologist with a focus on anger-stress management, communication issues and professional con-duct.

Tabbah has firmly denied making defamatory statements about his former colleague, his attorney, Frank McGuire of Bangor, said in his opening statement. The hospital, in its pretrial brief, countered that Thayer “demonstrated rash, angry, intimidating and-or conflict-prone behavior multiple times to multiple people in different settings.” EMMC has denied that its staff violated the state’s whistle-blower law.

Thayer worked as a pediatric surgeon at the hospital from May 2005 from November 2007. She filed the lawsuit in federal court in January 2009 seeking $1 million in damages from Tabbah and $500,000 from EMMC. Sometime after filing the lawsuit, Thayer left the practice of pediatric surgery and is now a general surgeon, according to her attorney, Brett Baber of Bangor.

The jury of two men and six women will decide whether Tabbah defamed Thayer and whether EMMC violated the whistle-blower law. If jurors agree that either of those things happened, they would decide what amount to award Thayer in compensatory and punitive damages.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk warned the jury, made up almost entirely of men and women under 30, not to use social media such as Facebook or Twitter to discuss the case until after they have announced a verdict. In other states, a handful of mistrials have been declared after members of juries used social media to express opinions about how the case was progressing.

Until recently, the standard warning to jurors was not to discuss the case among themselves or with family and friends and not to read newspaper articles or watch and listen to broadcasts on radio and television about the case. Over the past few years, state and federal judges have added a statement about jurors’ not using the Internet to research anything about things discussed over the course of the trial.

The trial is scheduled to last five to seven days.

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