ER doctor cleared in malpractice lawsuit

Jury deliberated for nearly three hours

The plaintiff argued that an emergency room doctor’s lack of care led to a patient’s suicide. The defense argued that the patient told the doctor he wasn’t suicidal. The jury sided with the doctor.

After nearly three hours of deliberations on Friday, June 6, a jury of five women and one man decided the plaintiff, Renee Villelli, suffered damages, but ruled Southwest Memorial Hospital emergency room physician, Dr. Mark Turpen, was neither negligible nor caused the damages in the June 10, 2010, death of her husband, Ted Villelli.

Moments after the verdict was read, Villelli hugged her attorney, Mike McLachlan, of Durango.

“I appreciate your hard work,” she said.

“It’s over,” she added, turning to a handful of family members in the Montezuma County Courtroom. “Let’s go home.”

Defense attorney John Mullen simply patted his client on the back, and they both exited the courthouse quietly.

During closing arguments on Friday, McLachlan argued for more than a half-hour. He told jurors Turpen was not a bad doctor, but was negligent when he discharged Ted Villelli after a 10-minute voluntary mental health evaluation. Villelli died by suicide about six hours later.

“(Turpen) didn’t do his job the best he could,” McLachlan said. “If properly treated, Mr. Villelli would have lived, at least that day.”

In Mullen’s closing statement, which lasted slightly more than 15 minutes, jurors were told Turpen didn’t have all the same information on the night in question that was presented during the weeklong medical malpractice trial. Jurors were provided 16 exhibits of evidence and heard testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including Turpen.

“Look at this case as it unfolded, not in hindsight,” Mullen said.

McLachlan also told jurors that if they found Turpen was negligent, they should award his client a minimum of $500,000. McLachlan said the award would “conservatively” cover her economic and emotional losses.

Leah Karotkin, co-counsel for the plaintiff, gave the plaintiff’s rebuttal closing statement. During her 20-minute address to jurors, she said there was no doubt that Turpen didn’t provide the adequate care his patient needed and deserved.

“The cost of not caring in this case was Ted Villelli’s life,” she said.

Mullen argued the patient “adamantly denied” he was suicidal during his client’s clinical assessment. He added that Villelli also misled an ER nurse and two deputies when he told them he was not suicidal.

“Mr. Villelli chose to break the trust he actively instilled with the people who were trying to help him,” Mullen said.