A Charleston, W. Va., surgeon has won the right to provide his own medical malpractice insurance in a court ruling his lawyer called a victory for all physicians in the state.
Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge James Stucky on Tuesday granted summary judgment to R. E. Hamrick Jr., M.D., in one phase of a lawsuit he had filed against Charleston Area Medical Center in September 2004.
The lawsuit alleged that CAMC administrators improperly pulled Hamrick's privileges after he established a $1 million self-funded program instead of obtaining medical liability coverage through a commercial insurer. The state Supreme Court temporarily restored his privileges while the case was pending.
CAMC officials had argued that Hamrick's fund was not actuarially sound, did not comply with the hospital's medical staff policies, and did not meet the requirements of the Medical Professional Liability Act approved by the Legislature in 2003, which lowered the caps for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.
"Dr. Hamrick's self-funding program meets the definition of 'medical professional liability insurance' as set forth in the MPLA. There is no reason for Defendant CAMC to be concerned that Dr. Hamrick's self-funding program is not as good as 'commercial' liability insurance," Stucky wrote in his ruling.
Stucky said Hamrick's program provides the same protection as coverage by a commercial insurer. He also said CAMC did not present any evidence showing that Hamrick's self-funded program was not actuarially sound.
Stucky also said the hospital's policies did not require doctors to obtain medical malpractice coverage from a commercial insurer.
Since the lawsuit was filed, CAMC's board has adopted a policy that allows physicians to self-insure. The policy was in development before Hamrick went to court, hospital spokesman Dale Witte said Tuesday.
"We're grateful that the court recognizes the importance of hospitals maintaining medical malpractice requirements for the physicians practicing at the hospitals," Witte said.
The second phase of the lawsuit, which is still pending, asks the court to determine whether CAMC officials interfered with Hamrick's right to treat his patients by taking away his hospital privileges, Miller said.