A Maryland Circuit Court judge awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages against certain defendants whom the judge found by clear and convincing evidence had acted with actual malice toward the plaintiff doctor and his family members with regard to an order of the Maryland Board of Physicians (“Board”) that was published on the Board’s website.
The court’s order requires that half the damages awarded be paid personally by fourteen appointees of the Board, the Board’s head investigator, and the Board’s lead attorney, with the required payments by each to be between $10,000 and $200,000 each, based on their respective net worth.
The plaintiff doctor had espoused the now discredited theory that the mercury-based preservative thimerosal that used to be used in childhood vaccines contributes to the development of autism, the early onset of puberty, and aggression in some children. The doctor first came to the attention of the Board in 2006 regarding his theory and for treating children with the drug Lupron to reverse the symptoms allegedly associated with mercury in vaccines. The Board suspended the doctor’s Maryland medical license on April 27, 2011, and revoked his license in 2012.
The Board continued to track the doctor’s activities, mocking the doctor and his son in emails and reveling in their humiliation from blogs and news articles that were critical of the doctor.
Then, acting on a tip that the doctor allegedly was still prescribing medications, the Board’s attorney drafted a cease and desist order published on its website in 2012, before any evidentiary hearing, that alleged that the suspended doctor had improperly prescribed medication for himself, his son, and his wife, and the cease and desist order explicitly identified the alleged medications improperly prescribed.
The doctor sued, alleging that publishing the details in the cease and desist order, including identifying the drugs by name, was vengeful and intended to humiliate and harm the doctor and his family. The Maryland judge was outraged that the Board and its staff failed to preserve the emails that allegedly mocked the doctor and by testifying that they had no knowledge regarding the cease and desist order. The Maryland judge found that the cease and desist order published on the Board’s website was a serious breach of medical privacy and reportedly stated with regard to the defendants’ testimony about their ignorance concerning the cease and desist order, “If their testimony were to be believed, which the court does not, it is the worst case of collective amnesia in the history of Maryland government and on par with the collective memory failure on display at the Watergate hearings.”
The defendants have appealed.
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