Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Doc wins $366 miilion in peer-review verdict.

It may be the largest verdict in Dallas history: $366 million It has to be the largest plaintiff's verdict in a peer-review case by a physician anywhere, any time. As reported in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, an interventional cardiologist whose privileges to perform cardiac catheterizations and echocardiograms were temporarily suspended and then reinstated after a panel of national experts defended the quality of the physician's work. Claiming that the temporary suspension harmed his reputation, shrunk his practice, and led to another hospital's decision to deny his application for privileges, the physician sued and won on a variety of claims, including breach of contract, defamation, interference with contractual relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (His antitrust claims were dismissed by the judge last fall.) You can view the instructions and verdict form here.

It is impossible to tell, without reviewing the trial record, whether the plaintiff deserved to win this case. His burden was a high one. To get around the immunities provided by the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act, he had to persuade the jury that the hospital and the physicians who participated in the peer-review action lacked a good-faith belief that its actions were necessary to protect patient health and safety. To win on most of the state-law claims, he had to persuade the jury that the physicians and hospital acted out of malice. The jury form makes it clear that the jury believed his version of the facts with respect to these issues.

It is also impossible to tell, without reviewing the trial record, what could possibly entitle a physician to an award of a third of a billion dollars for the temporary suspension of some of his staff privileges while the hospital looked into the question whether a string of adverse outcomes was nothing more than bad luck or signalled a deeper problem.

But one thing is for sure: This verdict (whether or not it is reduced by the trial judge, and whether or not it is reversed on appeal) will cast a very chilly pall over the peer review activities of hospitals in Dallas County (and elsewhere) and will lead otherwise public-spirited physicians to question whether peer review's gains are worth the personal legal and financial risk.
posted by tommayo, 7:18 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter