41-year-old South Texas personal injury solo practitioner Hermes Villarreal was admitted to a McAllen hospital on April 16, 2005, reporting that his heart was racing. The hospital put him on a 24-hour EKG. Villarreal reported being under stress, but refused a psychiatric consultation or the recommended medication. At 5 a.m. on April 19, 2005, the day of his scheduled discharge, “Villarreal summoned the nurse on duty and requested a razor, saying that he wanted to take a shower and shave his chest, because the EKG monitor leads attached to his chest were bothering him.” The nurse complied with his wishes, and Villarreal locked himself in the bathroom and committed suicide with the razor.
This was, said Villareal’s family, the hospital’s fault; since it’s South Texas, a Hildalgo County jury, after a three-week trial, awarded $9 million in March (which looks to be reduced at least to $1.64 million under Texas law capping damages). Ironically, the opening line of the Texas Lawyer story says “It was a suicide no one saw coming,” but doesn’t question the resulting jury verdict.
Somehow, the trial lawyer, Raymond L. Thomas, a close friend of Villarreal’s, interjected himself into the closing argument, telling an emotional story of a Rolex Villarreal had given him as a gift that left the jury in tears; the press coverage doesn’t acknowledge the blatant violation of ethical rules (see also Texas Rule 3.04(c)(3)), much less indicate whether he got away with it because of the failure of the defense to object or a judge’s failure to oversee her courtroom. (Jenny B. Davis, “Attorney, Interrupted: Seeking Meaning, Recovery for a Legal Life Lost,” May 5 via ABA Journal).