WILKES-BARRE — The third day of testimony in the medical malpractice trial over a young doctor’s sudden death got off to a contentious start Friday as lawyers clashed over accusations a Geisinger doctor ignored a judge’s order not to speak to her attorneys.
Dr. Jennifer Sidari, 26, of West Pittston, died in 2013 at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville of complications from a blood clot in her brain. Her parents, Peter and Patricia Sidari, filed a lawsuit against Geisinger Health System the following year, claiming the health care provider administered substandard care to Sidari, a newly minted doctor and rising star in the medical field.
As testimony of Dr. Jessica Zingaretti resumed, plaintiff’s attorney Matt Casey halted his line of questioning and asked whether the doctor had spoken to any lawyers Thursday night. Zingaretti, who was on the stand Thursday when proceedings ended for the day, was the attending physician on May 28, 2013, the day before Sidari died.
Zingaretti first denied talking to any lawyers, but then acknowledged she spoke to Geisinger attorney Anna M. Bryan, who Casey quickly noted was sitting in the third row of the courtroom and had been present a day earlier during Zingaretti’s testimony.
“We don’t need these dramatics in front of the jury,” Geisinger attorney Joseph Farchione said following an objection.
“This isn’t showboating, it’s deadly serious,” Casey argued. “She had an order from the court not to talk to a lawyer and she violated it.”
Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb, after instructing jurors to take a short recess, asked Zingaretti whether she spoke about her testimony or discussed details of the case with Bryan.
“My testimony was not discussed,” Zingaretti told the judge.
Farchione argued the rule extended by the judge Thursday stated Zingaretti could not discuss her testimony with any lawyers, not that she couldn’t have discussions that involve personal issues, family issues, the ride home or anything else discussed between Zingaretti and counsel.
“The court’s direction was strictly testimony,” Farchione said, adding that Casey “tainted the jury” by making an inference in front of the panel without proof.
Geisinger’s lawyers were “flouting the rules intentionally,” Casey said.
“Something should be done about this because she changed her testimony this morning and it is strangely coincidental that she had a conversation with her lawyer last night,” he added.
When the jury returned to the courtroom, Gelb instructed the panel that Zingaretti did not discuss her testimony with Bryan and nor did she do anything improper.
Casey then revisited arguments from the previous day that head-imaging scans ordered for Sidari allegedly took too long to take place. Zingaretti said Friday she couldn’t say whether there was a delay.
“It was part of my job to investigate what was going on and to get more information,” Zingaretti said.
“Ma’am, your job that day was to ensure there were no delays that would increase (Sidari’s) risk of further injuries, correct?” Casey asked.
“In my job I can’t prevent bad things from happening,” Zingaretti said.
Zingaretti, who remained on the stand throughout the day, later testified Sidari was “in disbelief” when she was told there were suspicions she had a blood clot.
“I had just given her this shocking news which she didn’t expect and I was just trying to make small talk and make her feel a little bit better,” said Zingaretti, who was under examination by Geisinger lawyer Andrew Efaw, of the Denver law firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP.
Efaw said there’s been suggestion that Zingaretti had been “less than forthcoming” in the courtroom.
“Are you telling the truth to this jury?” Efaw asked.
“Yes,” she said.
Afterward, Zingaretti was again confronted by Casey on allegations her deposition conflicted with her testimony Friday regarding the times a social worker was in Sidari’s hospital room as well as when she claimed to have spoken to Sidari’s uncle and primary care physician, Dr. Jude Sidari.
“You gave false testimony here today, didn’t you ma’am?” Casey asked.
“It’s how I remembered it,” Zingaretti said. “My memory is not documented.”
Testimony is expected to resume Monday.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL