Wednesday, May 14, 2014
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A jury in Nevada cleared a Las Vegas physician Tuesday in a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from the May 2010 suicide of LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg.
Jurors who heard five days of civil trial testimony deliberated less than an hour before finding Dr. Thomas Hess had no liability in the death of a woman who according to testimony harbored deep feelings of unhappiness even as she became a college golf star and a photogenic rising talent on the women's pro tour.
Hess, who testified earlier Tuesday that he had a "flirty" relationship with Blasberg, wasn't in the courtroom when the jury finding was read. He has maintained that he and Blasberg were friends, but didn't have a romantic relationship.
Hess' attorney, Kim Irene Mandelbaum, declined immediate comment after the jury finding was read in Clark County District Court.
Earlier, Mandelbaum urged the jury of four men and four women to remember that Blasberg's suicide letter said not to blame anyone.
Blasberg's parents, Mel and Debra Blasberg, who are divorced and live in Southern California, said they were disappointed in the finding but glad to have aired their concerns in court.
They accused Hess, now 46, who was married at the time, of pursuing a romantic relationship with their 25-year-old daughter — and of putting that interest ahead of her medical needs.
"We had a doctor much older than my daughter, who got involved with my daughter, and he crossed the line, and it affected my daughter," Mel Blasberg told reporters. "That's why we came here, not for money, but to let the world know there was more to what happened than Erica committing suicide."
"The court feels that, for whatever reason, he doesn't have the legal liability," Blasberg said.
Hess, a family practice doctor, pleaded guilty in December 2010 to a misdemeanor obstruction charge for removing the suicide note and some medications after finding Blasberg dead in bed at her Henderson home.
He said he removed the items to spare the Blasberg family, whom he had never met, anguish following Blasberg's death.
Hess didn't know Erica Blasberg had been seeing a psychiatrist for depression, his lawyer said, and he didn't prescribe the many medications that Blasberg took before going to bed with a dust mask over her mouth and a plastic bag over her head, secured by rubber bands.
The Clark County coroner determined that Blasberg committed suicide by asphyxiation, with a toxic combination of medications in her system.
Her suicide note said the prescription medications had been accumulated over time, and "I blame no one no one for the drugs I take this evening."
Blasberg was from Corona, California, where she was coached by her father before becoming an All-American in 2003 and 2004 at the University of Arizona. Her best year as a professional was 2008, when she tied for eighth at the SBS Open in Hawaii and earned more than $113,000 in winnings, according to the LPGA.