The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has reversed a massive jury award to a Dallas doctor who argued he was defamed by a hospitals peer-review process, rejecting a decision that had stunned providers because federal law protects them from liability in such cases.
Judge Patrick Higginbotham, writing for the three-judge panel in an opinion issued July 23, wrote that immunity from money damages afforded to participants in peer review requires only a reasonable belief that the action was in the furtherance of quality healthcare, quoting the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986.
Lawrence Poliner had persuaded a jury in 2004 that he was defamed by what the trial court judge ruled was summary suspension of his echocardiography and cardiac-catheterization privileges at 680-bed Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas for 29 days while a committee of cardiologists reviewed a sample of his cases. The review was triggered by a procedure in which Poliner conceded in the chart that he missed an arterial blockage.
This case is a matter of principle, not just of business practices, Douglas Hawthorne, president and chief executive officer of Presbyterian parent Texas Health Resources, said in a written statement, It goes to the heart of physicians accountability and responsibility to one another.
The jury awarded $360 millionmost of it for mental anguish, injury to career and punitive damagesalthough the judge later reduced the figure to $22.5 million. The legal community viewed the case as an aberration, but the result sent a shockwave through healthcare organizations, said Mark Kadzielski, a partner with the firm of Fulbright & Jaworski who was not involved in the case. It intimidated people, and it emboldened physicians who were subject to peer review to make all kinds of threats. -- by Gregg Blesch