RICHARD K. WILLIAMS, BY AND THROUGH HIS ATTORNEY-IN-FACT, JENNIFER ANN REZBA
HEALTHSOUTH REHABILITATION HOSPITAL NORTH
Assigned on Briefs April 09, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT00485011 James F. Russell, Judge.
Bruce A. McMullen, Jennifer A. Sink, and Mary Wu, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Healthcare Rehabilitation Hospital North.
William H. Haltom, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee for the appellees, Robert W. Greene, Jr., M.D., P.C., and Robert W. Greene, Jr., M.D.
Louis P. Chiozza, Jr. for the appellee, Jennifer Rezba.
Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.
KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE.
This Health Care Liability action arose from an incident in which Richard Williams slipped and fell in the parking lot of a restaurant in Memphis. Mr. Williams was seventy-nine years old at the time of the fall. Mr. Williams is a former television and radio personality, who became a local celebrity as a magician performing magic tricks on a local television show, which aired on WMC-TV, the NBC-affiliate in Memphis, from 1966 until 1989. Magicland, Mr. Williams' magic show for children, was televised every week for a half-hour before a live studio audience. Mr. Williams, known to his fans as "Mr. Magic, " holds a world record for hosting the longest running television magic show.
After Mr. Williams' fall, he was treated at St. Francis Hospital for a fractured hip. After a recovery period in the hospital, Mr. Williams was admitted to Appellant HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital North ("HealthSouth"). On his admission to HealthSouth, a nurse performed an initial assessment, spending approximately twenty minutes with Mr. Williams. The nurse oriented Mr. Williams to his room and left him to rest. Approximately forty-five minutes later, Mr. Williams was found on the floor, having fallen from his bed.
In March 2008, Mr. Williams, through his granddaughter, caretaker, and only remaining family member, Jennifer Rezba (together with Mr. Williams, "Plaintiffs") filed suit against HealthSouth, Dr. Robert W. Greene, Jr., M.D., P.C., and Dr. Robert W. Greene, Jr., Mr. Williams' admitting physician (together with Dr. Robert W. Greene, Jr., M.D., P.C., and HealthSouth, "Defendants, " and together with Dr. Robert W. Greene, Jr., M.D., P.C., and Plaintiffs, "Appellees"). The complaint alleged medical negligence on the part of the Defendants. Plaintiffs claimed that Mr. Williams should have been restrained due to his allegedly confused state and further alleged that Mr. Williams' current dementia and Alzheimer's disease were caused by the fall at HealthSouth.
After a protracted procedural history, which is not relevant to this appeal, the case was tried to a jury beginning on September 22, 2014. The Honorable James Russell presided over the trial. During the course of trial, on or about October 8, 2014, Plaintiffs' lawyer (allegedly without notice to Defendants) requested that the trial court allow Plaintiffs to play, for the jury, a montage video showing Mr. Williams at various points during his life. The video was made in conjunction with a fundraising tribute show for Mr. Williams. Included in the montage were photographs from Mr. Williams' childhood as well as photographs from his career as a television personality. Based on objections lodged by Defendants that the video was not relevant and would be used only to garner sympathy for Mr. Williams from the jury, Judge Russell reviewed the video footage outside the presence of the jury in order to make a ruling on its admissibility.
After viewing the video, Judge Russell made the following comments:
Well, I must say that what we've just seen is an incredibly charming presentation. And I would be less than honest if I didn't indicate that at this very moment, I am overcome with emotion. And during the playing, I noticed that Ms. Rezba particularly was having a more difficult time than even I am. I want to take a break to collect myself.
Following a brief recess, Judge Russell questioned the attorneys concerning the production of the video, and its relevance. Following fairly lengthy discussion, which included argument concerning the admissibility of certain newspaper articles, the trial court agreed to allow the video into evidence, stating, "in spite of its, let's say, passionate nature, the value in the form of rebuttal evidence outweighs any prejudicial effect that it may have upon the jury." At this point, HealthSouth's lawyer stated:
Your Honor, I noted when you saw the video of Mr. Williams, the Court teared up and had to take a moment. That is the type of passion, sympathy and emotion that is not really relevant to the facts in this case. And that is what we have talked about keeping away from the jury.
It may come a time that the Court may have to operate as 13th juror. And the Court has seen that and has shown a certain amount of passion.
And we respectfully request the Court-we request that the Court . . . consider our motion for the Court to recuse himself from this matter, ...