Dismissal of Damages Action Reaffirms Hospital Immunity

BALTIMORE August 5, 2008 (LAWFUEL) – Health systems and hospitals should take comfort in a recent court decision in a damages action brought by a surgeon against the two Western Maryland Health System hospitals located in Cumberland, Maryland.

In Isaac Isaiah M.D. v. WMHS Braddock Hospital Corporation et al, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz granted the hospitals’ summary judgment motion, concluding that the hospitals’ precautionary suspensions and revocations of the surgeon’s medical staff privileges were immune from liability under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act and Maryland law. Judge Motz held that both hospitals acted reasonably and found “not a scintilla of evidence that [the hospital] defendants acted in bad faith.”

In this case, a surgeon filed suit seeking money damages following the hospitals’ decision to suspend on a precautionary basis and then revoke his medical staff privileges. Nurses, anesthesiologists, and others had expressed concerns about the surgeon’s surgical skills and other matters, but the event that precipitated the hospitals’ action was a surgical case involving multiple problems.

Gallagher Evelius & Jones attorneys Jack Tranter and Sarah Howard, and Robert Paye of Geppert, McMullen, Paye & Getty, represented the hospitals. According to Mr. Tranter, who served as lead counsel, this case is “significant because it reaffirmed Congress’ objective in passing the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, i.e., that a court not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of hospital peer review bodies. As the Act provides, if a hospital acts in a reasonable manner, it will be immune from civil damages, as occurred in this case.” Since its adoption in 1986, the Health Care Quality Improvement Act has been tested fewer than ten times in Maryland state and federal courts.

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