Jury deliberations began Tuesday in trial of a $10 million lawsuit brought against a Los Angeles County coroner’s office doctor by a professional tennis referee who was accused — then cleared — of beating her husband to death with a coffee mug.
Lois Goodman, 76, alleges that she suffered pain, trauma, and loss of work and reputation as a result of Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Yulai Wang’s “faulty” ruling that the manner of her husband’s death was homicide rather than accidental.
Wang contends that he was simply following the evidence when making his decision and was not required to justify or explain his conclusions.
Goodman’s lawyers told an eight-member civil jury in Los Angeles federal court that she deserves $10 million for an ordeal that included her on-camera arrest, a stay at New York’s notorious Rikers Island, food poisoning from jail food and the end of her prominence as an in-demand tennis referee — all the result of Wang’s “shoddy” work and “falsified” ruling.
“Let me be abundantly clear — Mrs. Goodman didn’t kill anybody,” her attorney, Robert M. Sheahen, told the panel during closing arguments last week. “The charge is preposterous.”
Defense attorney Rickey Ivie countered that Wang was only doing his job by correctly identifying the manner of Alan Goodman’s death, not the perpetrator. Ivie added that the deputy coroner was not under any pressure to declare the death a homicide.
“His job is to state an opinion and that’s what he did in this case,” Ivie said, adding that other doctors who examined the autopsy results supported the homicide classification.
According to her suit, Goodman has suffered ongoing trauma and loss of reputation and work since being wrongly accused of murdering her 80-year-old husband, Alan, six years ago. Goodman was arrested in New York in August 2012 on the eve of a U.S. Open tournament while wearing her referee uniform. Police initially claimed she bludgeoned her husband to death with a coffee mug in their Woodland Hills home, and then stabbed him with the broken pieces.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped murder charges in December 2012 after Goodman passed a lie detector test and experts retained by prosecutors reviewed the autopsy report and concluded the death was an accident.
Along with millions in damages, Goodman is seeking to have the coroner revise the ruling on the death certificate.
Goodman initially sued the Los Angeles Police Department and the lead detectives on the case, along with the office of the medical examiner and Wang. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the allegations against Wang.
The jury must determine if Wang intentionally or recklessly falsified the manner of death and, if so, whether the doctor’s conclusion was a “substantial” factor in causing Goodman harm.
Sheahen contends that during the 3 1/2 months before Wang issued his report, police were pressuring the doctor to classify the death as homicide rather than undetermined or accidental.
Ivie told the jury that his client’s conclusion was entirely based on his interpretation of Alan Goodman’s injuries, described as “multiple sharp-force injuries.”
The defense attorney said there was nothing “malicious” about the report.
“He just did his job and made a neutral decision about the manner of death,” Ivie said. “That’s all he was supposed to do. Dr. Wang has nothing to gain by seeing Mrs. Goodman prosecuted.”
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