Do Medical Records Exonerate George Zimmerman? Not So Fast.
Over the past few months, I have refrained from writing about the shooting of Trayvon Martin (oblique references excepted), primarily because the controversy was fresh, and I wanted to allow for the possibility that the case is not as clear-cut as it seems at first blush. Still, I was leaning strongly towards the conclusion that George Zimmerman provoked an altercation with Trayvon Martin and murdered him. Moreover, based on my experience working at the intersection of law and medicine, I expected from the very beginning that sometime shortly before trial, the Zimmerman camp would produce a short, self-serving medical record, authored by some no-name internist practicing out of a dingy storefront called Something-Something Medical, P.C., and that “record” will indicate that Zimmerman came in right after the incident and was so horrendously injured, you’d think he had fallen off a skyscraper and been attacked by a pack of T-Rexes.
Well — surprise, surprise. The good folks who were lecturing us two months ago that Trayvon Martin deserved to die because he did not consistently exhibit saint-level perfection in appearance, academics, expressive language and personal behavior are now jumping up and down with glee over the supposed fact that medical records and Martin’s autopsy report supposedly “prove” that Zimmerman was fighting for his life.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
For starters, the “records” in question consist of a single three-page report by Zimmerman’s “personal physician”. Although the physician tentatively diagnosed Zimmerman with a nose fracture, apparently no x-rays were taken. Weirder still, although the report mentions two black eyes and extensive head wounds, Zimmerman did not undergo any diagnostic testing to assess internal damage and rule out the possibility of life-threatening intracranial bleeding. This omission is all the more remarkable in light of Zimmerman’s claim that Martin had been pounding his head against the pavement for about a minute. It is unthinkable for a doctor to evaluate a patient with injuries as severe as Zimmerman claims and not send that patient to the hospital for follow up or perform an appropriate diagnostic work-up.
Of course, the report in question mentions that Zimmerman declined to go to the hospital or have any follow-up, but … why? Why would Zimmerman, who supposedly sought medical attention in the first place, refuse to go to a hospital or to follow up with an ENT specialist? That makes no sense whatsoever. And there is no mention of any referrals for diagnostic work, truly stunning in a case supposedly involving traumatic head injury. Did Zimmerman show up at his personal physician’s office for the sole purpose of creating a record of his injuries? If so, why not go to the hospital, and have a CT scan and an x-ray taken — you know, create a record that’s much, much more reliable, detailed and probative? Could it be because he wasn’t injured at all and this report by a “family physician” is bullshit?
And then, the report contains this gem:
[Zimmerman] had a weapon as he is authorized to carry a firearm, and he fired at the attacker, killing him.
As part of taking down a patient’s history, a doctor or his or her staff would customarily include a blurb about the circumstances that led to the injury. However — and this is a big “however” — the circumstances are only documented to the extent that they impact on the care and treatment of the patient. Thus, for example, if a patient comes in with a neck injury from an automobile accident, it would be important for medical purposes to note whether the injury occurred as a result of traction or compression, but not whether the injured person has a valid driver’s license or an excellent driving record. Stating that Zimmerman was authorized to carry a firearm is completely irrelevant to his care and treatment (since the appropriate treatment would have been the same had he, in fact, been carrying the gun illegally). The whole statement is in the nature of legal argument, rather than medical history, and reflects a lay person’s misapprehension that a medically irrelevant statement in a doctor’s report is somehow binding on the trier of fact as evidence.
I know from my professional experience that it is remarkably easy to find a storefront “family doctor” who will falsify a report for you. There are some, in fact, who are known to do this routinely for accident litigation and don’t go to particular lengths to hide it. Hospital records, by contrast, are very difficult to falsify successfully — because hospitals, being under strict governmental oversight, have systems and bureaucracies in place to detect and severely punish falsification. Diagnostic films, similarly, may not be impossible to manipulate, but such a task would be technically daunting and necessitate the involvement of not only a doctor and a technician, but also of an engineer, possibly several.
In cases where someone’s medical condition is in controversy, medical records are typically taken at face value. However, there are certain tale-tale signs that lawyers and investigators look for that would indicate that a medical record is falsified. These signs are as follows:
The report that supposedly exonerates Zimmerman shows all of the above indicia of fraud, and was almost certainly created for the trial and back-dated to February 27.
There are a couple of other major inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s account. For one, the stationhouse video, taken on the night of the incident, shows two minor abrasions on the back of Zimmerman’s head, with no bleeding — an injury inconsistent with his claim that Trayvon Martin pounded his head on the pavement for a whole minute. Unless, of course, Zimmerman has a skull made of titanium, covered in dinosaur skin. Two, Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin at close range while Martin was beating him — but the results of the autopsy indicate that the fatal shot was fired from intermediate range — which certainly contradicts Zimmerman’s account that his life was in imminent danger.
“But wait,” Zimmerman’s supporters may interject at this point, “What about the bruising on Trayvon Martin’s knuckles from beating up on Georgy like a piñata?” Here too, I’m afraid, the supposedly exonerating evidence is underwhelming. The autopsy indicates that Martin had one small bruise on one of his knuckles, which he could have sustained in a variety of ways — but which would not be consistent with him repeatedly punching Zimmerman with his fists.
In short, Zimmerman is still on the hook. And, if the prosecutor is even minimally competent, the good doctor will get fileted on the stand — which would be getting off lightly, in my opinion.