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News of the Day ... In Perspective

04/07/2006

Court upholds jury’s findings in peer review case

In August 2004, a Texas jury awarded cardiologist Lawrence Poliner, M.D., $366 million in damages against hospital and physician leaders for violating the hospital’s bylaws, defaming him, and tortiously interfering with his business relations.

On March 27, 2005, the U.S. District Court upheld the jury’s findings, but ordered mediation to determine the amount of damages.

Texas Health Systems and James Knochel, M.D., contended that their statement that Dr. Poliner was a dangerous doctor was a nonactionable opinion. The Court held that there was no “wholesale defamation exemption for anything that might be labeled ‘opinion.’” Also, it said that it hoped “Defendants are not saying their decisions to summarily suspend physicians are not based on objectively verifiable facts.”

The jury found that the Defendants had acted maliciously and without justification or privilege.

The Court complained that Defendants employed an “exhausting and questionable post-trial briefing strategy.” Rather than briefing “what few credible arguments they may have had, Defendants chose to bombard the Court with dozens of untenable ones.”

The District court concluded that Dr. Poliner was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his defamation claim.

In an advertisement for a seminar to help hospitals avoid outcomes like this, the Horty Springer law firm, which represents many hospitals, noted that Dr. Poliner was threatened with suspension of all his hospital privileges if he did not agree to a “voluntary” abeyance of his cath lab privileges, “even though the defendants did not have enough information at the time to determine whether he posed a danger to patients.” Dr. Poliner was told he could not consult an attorney, and none of the Defendants would discuss the “problem cases” with him.

The law firm will teach hospitals how to build a record to show “reasonableness” and preserve their immunity if they implement “precautionary” suspensions of privileges.

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