An orthopedic surgeon who accused a former patient and his lawyer of suing him without grounds has won $175,000 in damages.

The judge calls the case totally unprecedented, and the doctor's lawyer says the verdict eventually will lower insurance rates by reducing frivolous lawsuits.

"Every decision I make in this case I'm plowing new ground for every lawyer and doctor in the United States." Circuit Judge Royce Lewis said before the jury came in late Friday.

Dr. John Sullivan of Vero Beach was sued in 1971 by James I. Terry, 78, of Fort Pierce. Terry complained that when Sullivan set his broken arm, the steel rod implanted in the arm to help it heal was one inch too long.

The doctor's insurance company, Commercial Union, wanted to settle. But Sullivan insisted that he hadn't been negligent and that the insurer fight the case. Commercial Union then canceled his malpractice insurance, forcing him to practice for a year without protection.

On the day Terry's suit would have gone to trial, his attorney, Otis Parker, dropped the case.

Sullivan then sued his former patient as well as Parker, charging malicious legal prosecution. After a week long trial, the jury deliberated five hours.