The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans 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, M.D., 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. 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, says Mark Kadzielski, a partner in the Los Angeles office of law firm 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.
Appeals court rules against doctor in peer-review case
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