Peer Review: Court Upholds Award of Attorney’s Fees to Hospital under Its Credentials Policy

June 1, 2013 | Health System Risk Management


The Supreme Court of Delaware upheld a superior court's ruling that a physician compensate a hospital $412,942.85 for attorney's fees and $25,805.36 for costs the hospital incurred in defending a lawsuit he filed against the hospital, its chief executive officer, and members of its medical executive committee after his clinical privileges were subject to precautionary suspension following peer review. In this appeal, the physician claimed, among other things, that a "fee shifting" provision in the hospital's medical staff bylaws credentials policy to recover attorney's fees and costs should not be enforced because it is against "public policy."

The surgeon, a member of the medical staff for nearly a decade, had been critical of the hospital's practices and its handling of quality-of-care issues, but in a manner that was viewed as antagonistic and disruptive. The court noted that his interaction with physicians, nurses, and staff resulted in their frequent complaints against him, which the hospital initially attempted to address through corrective action that included counseling him to improve his communication skills and requiring him to write letters of apology. Additional events occurred, including disrupting a physician meeting and verbally attacking a member of the medical staff, physically exhibiting an outburst of anger in the operating room, and "breaking the rules" by misrepresenting the purpose of the presence of a guest whom he invited to the operating room. Although the patient experienced no harm, the hospital placed the surgeon on "precautionary suspension." He agreed to resign in lieu of suspension. Subsequently, the board reinstated his privileges subject to his completing a three-day program for physicians who engage in disruptive behavior. He complied and returned to work...

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