Whether a doctor who suffered a stroke resulting in permanent brain damage was taking his blood pressure medication will be admissible as evidence in his family's civil suit against the city and Hall Ambulance, a judge decided Monday.
"In order to understand what medical condition was being exacerbated, we have to know what the condition was," Judge J. Eric Bradshaw said during a hearing on pre-trial motions that continues today.
In 2007, Dr. Mohamad Harb suffered a stroke and was allegedly denied immediate transport to a hospital emergency room because police thought he was drunk. In 2008, his family sued the city of Bakersfield, the Bakersfield Police Department, Hall Ambulance, former police officer Claudia Payne and some Hall Ambulance employees.
On Monday, the civil trial started with a pretrial hearing in which Bradshaw granted and denied several motions from the plaintiff and defense attorneys. Among them, Bradshaw decided evidence about Harb's blood pressure medication will be allowed. He also decided information about a sheriff's investigation into Payne will not be admissable.
Attorneys for the city and ambulance company alleged Harb was not taking his blood pressure medication, which caused a severe stroke that would have resulted in brain damage regardless of how soon he arrived at the hospital.
It is relevant for the jury to know about Harb's history with his medication in order to understand the nature and severity of the stroke, argued Mick Marderosian, attorney with Marderosian, Runyon, Cercone and Lehman Attorneys at Law representing the city.
Bradshaw agreed. "I don't know how the jury can decide if something was made worse if they don't know how it started," he said.
But Harb's attorneys said the issue at hand is not what caused the stroke. The issue is whether he was given the proper care once it occurred.
Thomas Brill, attorney with the Law Offices of Young and Nichols representing Harb, compared the situation to a football player who gets a concussion while playing. If a doctor fails to diagnose the concussion once the player is in the hospital, it is irrelevant that the injury was suffered while playing football, no matter how dangerous of an activity that is, he said.
Furthermore, Brill said, Harb's blood pressure at the scene of the stroke was only slightly elevated. Before that, Harb only had two other instances of high blood pressure, Brill said.
"They're bringing this in to try to prejudice the case and make him look like a bad guy," Brill said.
Also at issue was whether a case involving Payne being investigated in connection with a false police report would be admissable. Bradshaw declared that the information would be off limits during the trial.
In 2006, Payne reported stolen a horse she had been taking care of for a friend. A few years passed and the owner of the horse found it in possession of a third party. When detectives called Payne, she admitted she sold it to pay for breeding costs and then filed a false police report.
The case was investigated by the Kern County Sheriff's Office and forwarded to the District Attorney's office recommending charges. The DA's office chose not to file charges, citing a lapsed statute of limitations.
Jim Braze, attorney with Borton Petrini, LLP, representing Hall Ambulance, said the case should be included as evidence because it calls into question Payne's credibility as a witness.
Marderosian said he was offended that it was on the table as evidence and that including it would be trial by character assassination.
"This was not a felony conviction. It didn't even rise to the level of filing a complaint," he said.
Bradshaw will continue to hear motions from the attorneys Tuesday, including on whether Hall Ambulance owner and Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall can be compelled to testify.
Jury selection will begin Wednesday. The trial is expected to last into the second week of December.