RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
A jury in a Scioto County court this week awarded nearly $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages related to the 2003 murder of Bobby Burns, of Portsmouth.
According to Bruce MacDonald — an attorney with McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland in Greenup, Ky., representing the estate of Bobby Burns — Dr. Jack Adams, of West Virginia, was a psychiatrist working at a Huntington, W.Va., hospital in 2003 and was allegedly having a personal relationship with one of his clients — Bobby Burns’ wife, Michelle Burns.
Michelle Burns worked as a registered nurse at the same hospital in Huntington, but not in the same office as Dr. Adams. Her husband Bobby Burns was the Community Development Director for the city of Portsmouth.
MacDonald said that Bobby and Michelle Burns notified Adams that Michelle was terminating the personal and professional relationships she shared with the doctor, accusing him of malpractice. Then on July 2, 2003, on the night before Bobby and Michelle’s 25th wedding anniversary, Adams entered their home and shot and killed Bobby Burns. Michelle heard the noise and came out of the bathtub, and found Adams next to her husband’s body. Adams then reportedly held Michelle at gunpoint until she managed to escape and run to a neighbor’s house for help.
Adams was arrested later, and he was convicted of murder and kidnapping in a Scioto County Court. He was sentenced to life in prison, and currently serving out that term in a prison facility in Pickaway County, MacDonald said.
MacDonald said Michelle Burns has never fully recovered from the incident that happened 9 years ago. She has not worked a single day since, and she has not remarried.
The estate of Bobby Burns filed a claim for damages from wrongful death in 2005, and a jury in Scioto County Judge William Marshall’s courtroom this week ruled in favor of the estate. The jury awarded the estate $1.2 million in compensatory damages and an additional $8.1 million in punitive damages. MacDonald said it was the largest punitive judgement ever awarded in Scioto County.
“The money that Michelle Burns was awarded, and that the estate was awarded, can never replace Bobby Burns. That’s what Michelle told me after the case,” MacDonald said.
When asked how Adams, who is currently serving his prison sentence, could ever pay that amount, MacDonald replied, “There are lots of verdicts and judgements in this world that are not paid, or partially paid, or awarded. So at this point I can’t answer that question. I don’t know. I presume he’s still getting a pension. We have hopes of perhaps attaching any monies he may still be receiving as a result of his prior employment. We are going to investigate what, if any, assets he has remaining. He was a physician for many years, and we believe he had a significant estate at one time during his life. Now, whether that has been dissipated or given away, I don’t have all the answers to that.”
He said the jury believed that Adams exercised dominance and control over Michelle Burns, and this large judgement should serve as a message to anyone who would seek to abuse their position of authority and trust.
“The estate is very pleased that the jury took the time to consider this case and to award a significant punitive damage award to deter doctors, priests, other professionals who have professional relationships with patients or clients, from engaging in this type of conduct,” MacDonald said. “The punitive damage award sends a message to anyone who has a fiduciary relationship, or a physician/patient or lawyer/client relationship, that this type of conduct will not be tolerated in Scioto County. That’s what punitive damages are all about; to punish the person that did the wrong, and to send a message to other people that might be considering a similar act.”
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or email@example.com.