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Suits and Settlements: The Latest Legal Actions Against Hospitals

October 25, 2023

It’s true: we live in a litigious society. That’s not necessarily an indictment against those who initiate a legal action. It may be that they feel forced into taking such extreme measures because of the inappropriate and detrimental behavior of others. Regardless of which party is at fault, one thing remains certain: the lawyers are getting paid.

Lawsuits are on the rise, and the hospital industry is not immune in this regard. This week, Becker’s Hospital Review provided a list of recent legal actions involving hospitals across the country that may act as cautionary tales for our wider readership. Below are a few of the examples from the list.

  • According to the Seattle Times, a former medical director for a hospital in Seattle has filed suit against his former facility.  The doctor voluntarily left employment at the hospital in question back in 2020 due to what he perceived to be a pattern of discrimination. The suit alleges that the hospital created a hostile work environment, including “permitting the use of racial slurs, failing to remedy known incidents of systemic racism, fostering an environment of conformity to the status quo of racial inequity, and subjecting its Black and Brown employees to a double standard of conduct.”
  • A prestigious university hospital in Connecticut is facing mounting lawsuits from former patients who claim they underwent fertility procedures without receiving painkillers under the assumption that they would.  Back in 2020, a former nurse responsible for the ordering and inventory of controlled substances at the facility was found to have been stealing vials of fentanyl used for fertility procedures and replacing them with saline. Vials of saline were then administered to patients by staff members who, at the time, did not know pain medications had been tampered with.
  • A hospital need not worry only about alleged transgressions from the recent past as in the previous two examples (both from 2020); a facility in Chicago was successfully sued by a family whose allegations trace back to an event that occurred 20 years ago! The suit was filed on behalf of Shamond Butler, now a 20-year-old man who suffered brain injuries that were tied to inadequate care during his pre- and post-birth process. Mr. Butler cannot speak or read and requires around-the-clock care—allegedly due to the negligence of the hospital. A Cook County jury agreed, awarding Butler $55.5 million. According to the family’s attorney, Butler’s mother was not seen by clinical staff for six to seven hours after being admitted. The medication given to her was meant to cause contractions; but, instead, it cut off the oxygen supply to her child.
  • A national hospital system based in California reached a $200 million settlement with the state to resolve deficiencies in its delivery and management of behavioral healthcare.  According to Becker’s, the settlement stems from a non-routine survey and investigation conducted by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), beginning in August 2022. The state found that the system had engaged in a pattern of canceling behavioral health appointments and, in many instances, had failed to provide health plan enrollees with timely and clinically adequate behavioral health appointments, as required.
  • According to NBC News, three physicians at a medical center in the Los Angeles area have filed suit against the center’s ownership, alleging that the misconduct of one orthopedic surgeon was overlooked by management for years. The plaintiffs allege that the behavior of the physician in question created a toxic work environment and put patients at risk. The three female physicians say they were demoted or otherwise retaliated against when they complained about the orthopedist’s behavior, which included sexual misconduct with sedated patients, intentional surgery delays, wearing a gun in the hospital and operating room, and demanding that a television used to monitor a patient mid-surgery show a baseball game for his entertainment during an operation. The plaintiffs allege that administrators of the hospital ignored written and verbal complaints for years.
  • Another hospital also found itself the subject of a lawsuit involving sexual misconduct. The New York facility came under fire over complaints from over 300 patients that a gynecologist sexually abused them during examinations. The doctor in question was described in the filing as “the most prolific serial sexual predator in New York state history.” The suit further alleges that hospital staff and administrators knew of the abuse starting as early as 1994 and did nothing to stop it.
  • Finally, an Indiana hospital was forced to settle a lawsuit for $158,000 over allegations that it failed to accommodate a nurse after a work injury.  The suit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was based on findings that the hospital opted to fire the nurse because she had lifting restrictions. Failing to transfer and/or accommodate an employee because of a disability is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of the settlement, the facility agreed to rehire the nurse and change policies surrounding human resource training for all employees.

In light of the above, hospital administrators and department managers must take a more proactive approach in safeguarding the finances of their facility and the welfare of their patients. They must assume that potential lawsuits are just a few misdeeds away. Rooting out misbehavior, inadequate processes and illegal procedures are the facility’s first best defense against the swirling of subpoenas. Lawsuits cost. Implementing changes now can avoid unpleasantries down the road.

With best wishes,

Chris Martin
Senior Vice President—BPO

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