SIMI VALLEY — Attorneys contesting a Simi Valley woman's death in a medical malpractice trial, heralded as a landmark test of the managed health-care system, suffered a major setback this week when a judge restricted the key issue to a question of simple negligence, a court official disclosed Thursday.
The disclosure came after a day of closing arguments and only after reporters began asking questions late in the afternoon when it became apparent that attorneys would not be arguing the issue, which had been debated--vehemently at times--throughout the four-week trial.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley had issued a gag order during the trial and attorneys on both sides were forbidden to discuss the latest development. Riley gave no reason for the gag order.
The ruling was made public by Riley's clerk, who refused to discuss the matter further.
The ruling was made public hours before the case was scheduled to go to the jury for deliberations. Riley ruled that attorney Mark Hiepler failed to prove that two Simi Valley doctors refused to send an ailing patient to a specialist because they feared it would cut into profits.