former anesthesiologist, convicted and sentenced for the death of her mother
Jury reaches split verdict in Sawyer civil suit
A Lebanon County jury has reached a split decision in a lawsuit that a former anesthesiologist, convicted and sentenced for the death of her mother, filed against her employer.
The panel last week found that Rita Sawyer and Lebanon Anesthesia Associates had each breached a shareholders' agreement that spelled out compensation and other issues for the doctors who owned Lebanon Anesthesia Associates.
Sawyer, a former anesthesiologist, sought damages of more than $103,000 from her former employer. Lebanon Anesthesia Associates filed a countersuit against Sawyer, seeking damages of $42,300.
In October 2005, a jury convicted the 54-year-old Sawyer of first-degree murder in connection with the death of her 79-year-old mother, Mary E. Sawyer, and illegally administering a drug to her. Her mother was found dead in Sawyer's South Annville Township home on June 21, 2004.
Sawyer was sentenced in December 2005 to life imprisonment. Her case is currently on appeal before a state appeals court.
Prosecutors charged that Sawyer injected her mother with a drug commonly used to calm patients before surgery and smothered her with a pillow.
They said that Sawyer killed her mother because she felt overwhelmed by her mother's deteriorating health, coupled with her own alcohol-abuse problem.
Last week, a jury awarded damages to each side that were significantly lower than the two sides had sought. Jurors awarded Sawyer more than $23,500 for unpaid bonus money. She also
sought but did not receive, her share of accounts receivable and unpaid salary after June 28, 2004.
The panel also awarded more than $20,600 to Lebanon Anesthesia Associates, $16,102 for medical malpractice premiums and $4,674.26 for expenses, such as medical education and insurance that the association initially pays but doctors reimburse the association.
"It was a complicated case," said Greer Anderson, who represented Sawyer. "It dealt with a lot of technical legal issues that we don't generally see under normal circumstances.
"She was grateful to be able to pursue what she thought she was entitled to and what she thought was right," Anderson said.
Tim Huber, who represented Lebanon Anesthesia Associates, declined comment about the verdict.
Sawyer was terminated as a shareholder as of June 28, 2004. She began working for Lebanon Anesthesia Associates in 1992 and became a shareholder in November 1993.
Sawyer took a leave of absence from work on June 17, 2004, for substance abuse.
On June 28, 2004, Lebanon Anesthesia Associates sent Sawyer a letter regarding terms of her termination. According to that letter, Sawyer was to receive 90 days of salary, bonus income until June 17, 2004, and her portion of accounts receivable.
On Dec. 14, 2004, the state of Pennsylvania suspended Sawyer's license to practice medicine.
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