Jury sides with hospital in deportation case

By Chuck Weber email

STUART, FL (WFLX)-In a case grabbing national attention, a jury at the Martin County Courthouse, has sided with Martin Memorial Medical Center in a case where the hospital deported an undocumented immigrant.

In February 2000, Guatemalan immigrant Luis Jimenez suffered a serious brain injury, after being rear-ended by an uninsured driver, who lawyers say was drunk. Jimenez spent three years at Martin Memorial, and racked up a bill of more than $1.5 million. As soon as a state court judge ruled Jimenez could be deported, the hospital chartered a plane and sent Jimenez back to Guatemala.

Later an appeals court, and state Supreme Court, both ruled a state court has no authority to deport. So Jimenez's guardian sued Martin Memorial for false imprisonment.

But Monday in revealing their verdict, jurors determined Martin Memorial had not acted unreasonably and was not liable. Jimenez's guardian was seeking $1million for the man's care in Guatemala.

After the verdict was announced, Martin Memorial's CEO Mark Robitaille said, "We are pleased after these long months that the story, the complete story, was able to be presented to a jury. And the jury found we acted in the best interest of Mr. Jimenez."

Farmworker advocate Greg Schell, of Florida Legal Services in Lake Worth, had a different view. He worked on the original deportation case.

"The hospital's actions in this case were despicable," said Schell, who recalled what happened after the original deportation ruling. Schell says his team indicated they would appeal and asked that the ruling be put on hold. Schell says Martin Memorial lawyers requested until the following morning to file a response.

Schell said, "They failed to announce to anybody that, 'Oh, judge, we're going to use this couple hours window to deport the guy.'"