LOS ANGELES – A federal jury in Los Angeles on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by a professional tennis umpire who claimed a coroner's doctor recklessly classified her husband's death as a homicide, leading investigators to falsely accuse her of murder.
Jurors found that Lois Goodman's civil rights were not violated and determined Deputy Medical Examiner Yulai Wang did not falsify the death certificate for Alan Goodman.
Lois Goodman was on her way to officiate a U.S. Open tennis match in New York in 2012 when police arrested her in front of TV cameras on suspicion of killing her husband. All charges against her were eventually dropped.
The 76-year-old's lawsuit asked for $10 million in damages and sought to have the coroner change the cause of death to accidental. She claimed Wang provided no justification when he determined Alan Goodman's death was a homicide.
The eight-member panel deliberated for about six hours before reaching a unanimous decision, answering only the first question on the verdict form: "Was the autopsy report prepared by Dr. Wang falsified?" The answer of "no" made the remaining questions of liability and damages unnecessary, according to CNS.
Lois Goodman told investigators she returned home on April 17, 2012, to find a trail of blood leading from a landing on the stairs, where a coffee mug was shattered, to her bedroom. Her husband was face-up covered in blood on his bed and his body was cold.
Paramedics and police concluded Goodman died from an accidental fall down the stairs after they investigated the scene, spoke with Lois Goodman and interviewed neighbors.
Wang and another pathologist who conducted the autopsy didn't think the injuries were caused by a fall, but they deferred reaching a conclusion pending more investigation.
Lois Goodman was arrested about two weeks later. The charges were dropped in December 2012 after two other experts retained by prosecutors reviewed the autopsy report and concluded the death was an accident.
There were no blood spatters that would have been consistent with a beating, none of Lois Goodman's DNA was on the mug and none of her husband's blood was found on her clothes.
"I'm relieved," Wang said outside court after Tuesday's ruling in his favor. "There was no evidence of falsification. Medical examiners should be able to do their job without the threat of a lawsuit — and I hope others (in the profession) see that."
Goodman alleged that she suffered pain, trauma and loss of work and reputation as a result of what she said was Wang's "shoddy" work.
Wang's attorney argued during the seven-day trial that the doctor was simply following the evidence when making his decision.
Goodman's attorney Robert Sheahen said the case would be appealed for a second time to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Goodman originally sued Los Angeles police detectives who investigated the case, along with the coroner's office and Wang. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, but the appeals court reinstated the case against Wang because police relied on the conclusion of the coroner.