Cornell University has lost its appeal of a 2010 verdict that was the result of a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former research fellow. The lawsuit alleges that Weil Cornell Medical College and former faculty member Dr. Wilfred van Gorp made false claims to the National Institute of Health (“NIH”) regarding a government funded research grant. The grant was intended to train post-doctoral fellows in child and adult clinical research in neuropsychology with a strong emphasis on research training with HIV/AIDS. Relator Daniel Feldman alleged in his Complaint that of 165 patients who participated in the research only three were HIV positive. Various fellows also testified that very little of their research involved HIV or AIDS at all.
Cornell appealed the jury’s 2010 ruling on the grounds that they erred in calculating damages; that there was no evidence to conclude that the false statements made by Cornell had influenced NIH’s decision to award them the grant; and that the trial court erred in excluding NIH’s inaction towards Relator Feldman’s initial complaint. In ruling against Cornell, a jury found that the school had made false statements on the grant renewal application in the third, fourth and fifth years. As a result, Cornell was fined $855,714 plus $32,000 in statutory damages. Relator Feldman was awarded $602,898 in attorney’s fees, $25,862 in costs and $3,121 in expenses. He also stands to gain a portion of the fine imposed on Cornell.