A jury spent less than two hours Monday deciding a Deer Park doctor was not guilty of malpractice when he treated a patient who later died of AIDS.
Jurors listened to four days of testimony in Spokane County Superior Court before finding that Dr. Donald Baker had no reason to diagnose patient Michael Bronny with AIDS sooner than he did.
Bronny, who was 34 when he died of AIDS in early 1995, had told his wife he met with Baker in late 1991 and suggested an HIV test may be needed.
Patti Bronny told jurors last week that her husband continued seeing Baker until finally being diagnosed with AIDS in summer 1993.
Until then, she testified, Baker never regarded AIDS as the main reason for her husband’s declining health.
By the time he was diagnosed, his AIDS was full-blown. He might have lived another two years if Baker had diagnosed him sooner, her lawsuit claimed.
“I was also there when my husband talked about his prior intravenous drug use,” Patti Bronny said. “Dr. Baker looked at us that visit and said, ‘That (HIV) is not your health problem.”’
Baker, a general practitioner, denied treating Bronny as early as the lawsuit claims. He insists he didn’t see Bronny as a patient until August 1992 - eight months later than alleged.
The doctor also testified that he saw no obvious reasons to think HIV was the cause of Bronny’s ailments until summer 1993.
And Michael Bronny did not ask him if an HIV test was needed, Baker said.
He testified also that Bronny finally admitted to him, in July 1993, that he had taken intravenous drugs seven or eight years earlier.
That visit was when Baker ordered an HIV test, he said.
Coming to court Monday to hear the verdict, Bronny’s attorney, Russell Van Camp, knew the jury’s quick deliberation meant he’d lost the case.
“We’re toast,” Van Camp said as he entered court.
Later, Van Camp called it “one of the most disappointing verdicts I’ve ever had.”
Both sides brought in expert witnesses to support their claims.
Baker was supported by several Spokane doctors, who said he treated Bronny appropriately under the circumstances.
But Dr. Daniel Coulston, who treated Bronny after he was tested for AIDS, testified that Baker should have ordered such a test at least a year earlier.
Bronny and his wife filed the suit in summer 1993, several months before he died. They sought $80,000 in actual damages, and unspecified damages for emotional distress.
“I did what I had to do; we knew we might lose,” Patti Bronny said after the verdict.
“I went to court to get justice, and though we didn’t win, I feel justice has been served. If anything, I feel that Dr. Baker will respond more quickly the next time this kind of situation comes in front of him.”