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Recommendations For Physicians Who Receive Notice of Investigation From the ABIM

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In 2010, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) sanctioned 139 physicians for seeking out and sharing board examination questions with a testing preparation company. For the physicians involved in that cheating scandal, disciplinary action taken by the ABIM included revocation of board certification or suspension of certification for one to five years, depending on the severity of the offense. The ABIM also reported these actions to state medical boards.  The ABIM routinely takes such actions against physicians, investigating any similar type of “misconduct” or “irregular behavior” which it comes across.

Recommendations to the individual physician (“Physician”)who finds himself or herself in receipt of a letter notifying of investigation or possible disciplinary action from the ABIM:

1. Retain the services of an experienced healthcare attorney who is familiar with such matters, immediately.  The American Health Lawyers Association or your state bar association are good sources.  Ask for a referral of a health lawyer who represents physicians.

2. Avoid e-mailing or discussing your situation on any listservs or blogs.  You do not know how many places such communications may wind up and your complete identity will be easily determinable.

3. Be completely candid with your attorney and reveal all facts, documents and prior communications that have occurred.  Your attorney cannot effectively represent you otherwise.

4. Do not let any deadlines go by without requesting, in writing, via a verifiable method (not e-mail) that you have requested a review, hearing, appeal or other due process rights.  “Verifiable” means sent by a method that can be tracked and receipt of which is documented (e.g., U.S. express mail with a return receipt requested, Federal Express, etc.).  It does not hurt to send by two or three different methods.

5. If there is documented proof that you have actually been involved in a compromise of the examination, sometimes it will be advisable to admit this to the committee, produce any mitigating factors, apologize and propose a less harsh sanction (note:  this will be contrary to what most defense attorneys would ordinarily recommend.)  In the face of convincing evidence that you breached the rules, this may be the most reasonable and least damaging course to pursue.  Discuss this with an experienced health care attorney first, though.

6. Review any employment contracts, independent contractor agreements, provider agreements with third-party payers and medical staff bylaws (for hospitals at which you have privilege) with your attorney to determine if you are required to report this event.

7. Advise your employer (or prospective employer) of the situation and offer to do whatever is required to help alleviate any problems this causes to your employer.

8. See if your employer (or prospective employer) would be amenable to negotiating an amendment to the terms of your employment, including different duties, more supervisory, administrative or managerial duties, lower salary, etc., if necessary.  Also consider requesting a postponement of starting date, leave of absence, sabbatical or other alternatives to full-time employment.

9. Explore charitable work and community service opportunities, such as service in community health clinics, volunteering in free/charity clinics and hospices, volunteering for overseas medical organizations such as Physicians without Borders, service in medically under served areas, and similar opportunities.  This might also serve as a basis to convince ABIM to reduce the period for retaking the exam or becoming certified.

10. Every individual, every case and every situation is unique.  You should consult with your attorney on every issue and follow his or her advice.

Recommendations to the employer or prospective employer of a Physician who has received notice from ABIM that he or she will not be certified:

1. Consult your health care attorney regarding the matter immediately.

2. If your contract with the Physician requires him or her to be board certified (as almost any well-written contract will require) and it does not appear he or she will be able to meet this requirement, this will most likely be grounds to terminate or void the contract.

3. Attempt to obtain complete information from the Physician on what his or her exact circumstances are and whether or not he or she is likely to become certified in the near future.

4. The easiest and least expensive resolution may be to terminate the Physician’s contract, if the contract provides for this.  A voluntary agreement from both parties or voluntary resignation by the employee may be the least harmful way out.  The more complex and more expensive resolution may be to negotiate an amendment to the Physician’s contract and to try to find alternative duties for the Physician.

5. If it looks like you will be terminating or voiding the contract, start looking for a replacement physician right away.  (The law requires you to mitigate your damages.)

6. If you have a medical group, use group numbers to bill third-party payers, and the physician is a member of your group or is a participating physician on the panel of the payer, review your provider contracts to determine if you must report this or take action to avoid having the payers patients treated by the physician.

To read further on the cheating scandal in 2010, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in investigations and hearings of all types.  This includes board certification hearings, medical board hearings, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hearings, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings, medical staff peer review and clinical privileges hearings, FBI Investigations, DOJ Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Medicare and Medicaid overpayment demands and hearings, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.  We also undertake civil litigation in the same types of cases.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), legal representation for ABIM investigations, legal representation for ABIM discipline, legal representation for ABIM certification, legal representation for Board representation, legal representation for Board investigations, defense attorney for Board investigations, attorney for Board representation, legal representation for medical students, legal representation for medical residents, legal representation for medical fellows, legal representation for physician employment agreement, physician employment contract attorney, legal representation for physician license revocation, licensure defense attorney, legal representation for health care professionals, health law defense attorney, The Health Law Firm, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews board certification hearings, medical board hearings, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hearings, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings, medical staff peer review and clinical privileges hearings, FBI Investigations, DOJ Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Medicare and Medicaid overpayment demands and hearings, and other types of investigations of health professionals

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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Medical Students, Interns & Residents Beware: A Finding of “Irregular Behavior” Can Ruin Your Medical Career Before it Starts

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A medical student, intern or resident may receive a letter from the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), United States Medical Licensee Examination (USMLE) Secretariat advising them that they are suspected of “irregular behavior” on a Step examination. In the case of graduates of foreign medical schools, this will be a letter from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Although “irregular behavior” is not the same thing as “cheating,” it is often thought of as the same by medical school officials and residency program directors.

A notice of irregular behavior may delay your entry into a residency program, your graduation from medical school and your potential job opportunities. Your examination scores will be held up while the matter is investigated until a Committee review or hearing can be held.

It is imperative that anyone accused of irregular behavior immediately consult with legal counsel experienced in such matters. At The Health Law Firm, we have represented a number of medical students, interns and residents in hearings on irregular behavior and we have consulted with many before on these matters.

Don’t Listen to Bad Advice.

The following are examples of erroneous advice we have heard was given to those accused of irregular behavior:

1. You shouldn’t have a lawyer represent you in such matters because this will make the Committee angry at you.

2. You don’t need a lawyer because you can just explain it yourself.

3. You just write a statement and explain it; the Committee will understand and find in your favor.

4. You do not need to request a hearing on it because if you submit documents, the Committee will review them, find in your favor and no hearing will be necessary.

5. If you request a hearing on the matter, you do not need to attend it in person.

6. If you request a hearing, an attorney is not allowed to represent you at the hearing.

7. You should not worry about the Committee finding against you because you can always appeal the finding or sue in court.

The above advice is wrong. The only advice you should listen to is the advice of an attorney who is experienced in handling matters of irregular behavior.

The Importance of Retaining Experienced Legal Defense.

The biggest problem faced by an individual accused of irregular behavior who does have a valid defense is to concisely and adequately explain the situation. Additionally, you must produce evidence that supports what you are saying.

Someone who is not trained in the legal profession and who is not familiar with such hearings will be unfamiliar with the process even though such hearings are not as formal as court hearings. Additionally, it is easy for a non-lawyer who is not familiar with the rules of the USMLE to fail to address those concerns and get side tracked on irrelevant matters.

Additionally, documents, statements, affidavits, expert witness reports and other documents presented to the Committee as evidence should be well organized, indexed, with a table of contents, pages numbered and summarized. This will better present an organized, easily understood defense. Sending in a few stray documents with no organization or explanation how the documents relate to the issues can be far less than effective.
Consequences of an Irregular Behavior Finding.

If a finding of irregular behavior is made against you, then this usually means that your best score is voided and you must retake it. The Committee may require you to wait a year or more to retake the examination. This can prevent you from obtaining or entering a residency program or it may delay you from graduating. Furthermore, the notation that you were found to have committed irregular behavior will be placed on your Step exam transcript. This will be reported out when your test scores are reported.

As indicated above, many medical decision makers view this as similar to cheating. It may disqualify you for many jobs or residency programs that you would otherwise be considered for.

If the time and money you have spent on your medical career is valued by you, you will act promptly to retain legal counsel experienced in USMLE hearings and procedures to represent you. You wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself. You shouldn’t attempt to represent yourself in such legal matters.

The takeaway message is that retaining an attorney to represent you against irregular behavior allegations could be the difference between a clear record and a mark that will follow you for the rest of your career. Don’t risk jeopardizing your future as a healthcare practitioner. Consult with an attorney as soon as you receive notice of allegations against you regarding irregular behavior.

To learn more on the repercussions of findings of irregular behavior, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Matters of Irregular Behavior Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in irregular behavior allegations, USMLE issues, academic disputes, graduate medical education (GME) hearings, contract negotiations, license applications, board certification applications and hearings, credential hearings, and civil and administrative litigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of The Health Law Firm, P.A., and Florida professional service corporation, since 1999, and is also a registered service mark. Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

20 Tips Plus a Bonus for Physicians Negotiating Their Own Employment Contracts

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

At The Health Law Firm, we often receive calls from physicians and health professionals about reviewing and negotiating contracts, preparing contracts, helping employers and employees enforce contracts, voiding contracts, getting out of contracts and litigating various contract provisions. Physicians and other health professionals should understand the common language and terms found in employment contracts for professionals so they can recognize mistakes commonly when negotiating them.

Our comments here are meant to provide general tips we have learned from our experience. However, please remember, every situation is different and there are exceptions to every rule. I have added a “bonus tip” here, because of recent problems our clients have had.

“Bonus Tip;” The Prime Directive.

My primary tip, and I would say it is the most important, is to know the persons and parties with whom you are contracting and be sure the contract contains that information. Make sure you know the complete name and residence address of the principal person with whom you are dealing. Then be sure you know the complete information on any business entity with which you are dealing, including state of incorporation (or organization), shareholders (or “owners” or members), and address of its main headquarters (principal place of business). If other business entities are the shareholders, owners or members of the entity for which you will be working, you need to find out the same information for each of them. Make sure they are all authorized to do business in your state and have the appropriate licenses that your state requires.

In Florida, any medical business that is not actually 100% owned by Florida licensed physicians or health professionals must have a Health Care Clinic license issued by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Dental practices and optometry practices cannot be owned by anyone who is not licensed to practice dentistry in the state of Florida. Some unscrupulous business people attempt to skirt the law by setting up phoney or “straw man” owners that are physicians or dentists. This is illegal, a felony in many cases, so be cautious. My advice would be not to sign up with a business entity that has been created solely for the purpose of contracting with you and which has no assets. This has been a real problem, lately.

20 More Tips.

The following are a few tips for any physician who is involved in negotiating his or her own employment agreement.

1. There is no such thing as a “standard physician employment agreement.”

2. Everything is negotiable.

3. Be sure the wording of the contract represents exactly the agreement you made. If it is different or not specified, the language in the contract will govern in any future dispute.

4. Be sure that every blank in the contract is completed and filled in before you sign.

5. Be sure that every Exhibit, Addendum or Schedule referred to in the contract is completed and attached before you sign.

6. Shun “legal” advice from your peers and, especially, from the accountants and representatives of your future employer. Misinformation about legal issues abounds. Just because one court may have decided a legal issue a certain way in one case in one state does not mean a different court would not reach a different decision, even in the same state or county. Every set of facts and circumstances, every contract and every case are different.

7. Obtain and review copies of every document referred to in the agreement. These are considered part of the agreement. These may include the practice’s policies and procedures, the employee handbook, a code of conduct, sexual harassment policy, compliance agreements, etc. Keep these in a file with a copy of your contract.

8. Carefully consider clauses that allow the employer to terminate the agreement without cause on a 30 day, 60 day, 90 day or 180 day notice. With such a clause in your contract, you no longer have a one year or two year agreement. Instead, you have a 30 day, 60 day, 90 day or 180 day contract. Can you find another job and relocate in 30 days or 60 days?

9. If there is a “for cause” termination provision in the contract, be sure to include a “cure” provision. This is a provision which requires the employer to provide you written notice of any deficiency or breach and allows you a certain period of time (usually anywhere from 10 to 30 days) to cure it.

10. Ensure the contract is clear throughout that you are an employee and not an independent contractor. Employees receive far more benefits and have more protections under the law than do independent contractors. If you sign on as an independent contractor, you will be assuming many expenses and liabilities that the employer would ordinarily be required to assume.

11. A promise to make you a “partner” or “shareholder” in the practice after a certain period of time will not be enforceable unless all of the terms are specified in order for a court to enforce it. (Price, timing, percentage of ownership, method of payment of the buy-in, etc.). Think of an option to purchase a house. Unless all of the terms for a binding contract are set forth in writing and agreed to by the parties, it will not be enforceable.

12. If you sign the agreement, be prepared to honor it. Do not sign an agreement thinking that there may be certain provisions that won’t be enforceable or that you won’t be required to follow in the future. Assume that every part of the contract is enforceable.

13. Restrictive covenants (sometimes referred to as covenants not to compete) are enforceable in Florida. Although there are many exceptions and defenses that can be used to defeat or prevent the enforcement of a restrictive covenant, unless you have the money set aside to finance litigation, expect to honor it if it is in the agreement. As an employee, your negotiation strategy should be to: a) have it removed completely, or b) reduce the period of time and reduce the geographic area as low as possible. Also, it should be worded so as to only apply to the office or location in which you work and to the medical subspecialty or type of practice in which you will work.

14. Avoid assuming any obligation to pay the premium for tail coverage for professional liability (medical malpractice) insurance, especially if the employer terminates the employment. If you are not able to negotiate this away completely: a) reduce the percentage you agree to pay to 50% or have it reduced 25% for each year you are in the practice, and b) insert a provision that if you maintain the same insurance company or obtain retroactive coverage, this will be substituted for tail coverage.

15. Visit the practice, hospital and area at least three (3) times before signing. One of these visits should be without the knowledge of the potential employer when you can tour the geographic area and, perhaps, the hospitals on your own.

16. Contact any physicians you know or have met in the past who live in the area or any surrounding areas. They may be able to provide you information regarding your potential employer, hospital or city that may affect your decision.

17. Do your “due diligence” before agreeing. Ask to see actual billing and collections figures and income statements. Talk to other associates. If your compensation will be based on productivity, speak with another physician who is similarly compensated about how his/her compensation is computed. Visit any hospital, nursing home or other facility where you will have privileges or see patients. Discuss the quality of the equipment and stuff with other physicians and physicians in surrounding communities.

18. Do not buy a permanent residence (house or condominium) during your first two years of employment with a new practice in a new location. Rent or rent with an option to purchase. This will give you much more flexibility if the employment situation does not work out to your expectations.

19. If you receive a signing bonus, put it in the bank in a CD or money market to use as needed in connection with tips 14 and 15 above. This may be your personal “golden parachute” if you need to leave a bad situation.

20. Do not start working until you have a copy of the employment agreement. A draft copy if not sufficient. A copy signed by you but not by the employer is not sufficient. The most common problem we see when there is a physician employment dispute is that the employee does not have a copy of the contract that is signed by the employer.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in Negotiating and Evaluating Physician and Health Professional’s Business Transactions.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, durable medical equipment suppliers (DME), medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, preparing contracts, helping employers and employees enforce contracts, advice on setting aside or voiding contracts, litigation of contracts (in start or federal court), business transactions, professional license defense, opinion letters, representation in investigations, fair hearing defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, litigation of restrictive covenant (covenants not to compete), Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Physician employment agreement, physician employment contract, health professional contracting, negotiating business transactions, physician contracts, contracting tips, legal representation for physician contracts, legal representation for negotiating physician contracts, contracting defense attorney, physician contract attorney, legal representation for contract litigation, legal representation for business litigation, legal counsel for contract terms, legal representation for physician agreements, legal representation for business transactions, legal counsel for restrictive covenants, legal counsel for noncompetition agreements, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, health law defense attorney, health law attorney

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of The Health Law Firm, P.A., and Florida professional service corporation, since 1999, and is also a registered service mark. Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Judge Refuses to Dismiss Whistleblower’s False Research Data Suit Against Duke University and Two Faculty Members

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On April 27, 2017, a federal judge in North Carolina refused to dismiss a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against Duke University and some of its faculty. The suit alleges that Duke knowingly falsified medical research data in order to get federal grants. According to the judge, the whistleblower in the suit had adequately stated his case against the defendants.

The case was originally filed in West Virginia but was later transferred to a federal district court in North Carolina. The full case caption is United States of America, ex rel. Joseph M. Thomas, Plaintiff, vs. Duke University, Duke University Health System, Inc., William M. Foster, Ph.D., and Erin N. Potts-Kant, U.S. Dist. Ct. Middle Dist. N.C., Case No. 1:17-cv-276.

Click here for a copy of the Amended Complaint filed on November 13, 2015.

Denied Motion For Dismissal.

In a three-page order, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles denied dismissal motions by Duke and two defendants. Judge Eagles did not elaborate on her decision beyond saying that plaintiff and whistleblower Joseph M. Thomas had brought claims upon which relief could be granted.

To read the order for this case in full, click here.

The Whistleblower Suit.

The whistleblower, Joseph Thomas, was a laboratory research analyst in the Pulmonary, Asthma and Critical Care Division of Duke University Health Systems during the alleged violations. He originally filed his complaint in the Western District of Virginia in May of 2013. He accused the defendants of violating the FCA by faking data in an effort to get money from various federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

One of the defendants was a clinical research coordinator in that same division and is charged with directly manipulating the research in question. The second defendant, a research professor of medicine, was her direct supervisor.

Repercussions of Clinical Research Fraud and Misconduct.

An accusation, even if later proven to be unfounded, may unfairly tarnish the personal and professional reputation of the researcher and institution. Findings of research misconduct can result in exclusion from grants, termination of employment, and possible civil and criminal penalties. Obtaining an experienced attorney at the earliest stages of an investigation can help the researcher to avoid many pitfalls and mistakes that can harm or even give up defense opportunities the researcher may have. At the very least, legal guidance can assist in presenting the researcher’s side of the case in an effective and organized manner that does not compromise a legal defense.

Going out and retaining an aggressive trial attorney who is unfamiliar with such matters can often be counter-productive and actually lessen the chances of a researcher coming out of an investigation unscathed.

To learn more on this topic, watch our informational video blog here.

To learn how The Health Law Firm can assist if you find yourself facing accusations of research fraud or misconduct, read one of my prior blogs here.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Clinical Research Fraud and Misconduct.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys have experience in representing researchers, investigators, academicians and clinicians who are the subject of clinical research fraud and misconduct. The Health Law Firm and its attorneys also have experience in representing students, employees, researchers, investigators and “whistle blowers” who report such matters including those who become the victim or reprisals and retaliation by the person against whom the report is made. Don’t wait. Obtain the advice and counsel of experienced attorneys who are familiar with such matters and can assist you before it is too late.

If you are facing research misconduct or research fraud accusations, please visit our website for more information at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Kennedy, John. “Duke Can’t Drop Whistleblower’s False Research Data Suit.” Law360. (April 27, 2017). Web.

Hofstra, Patricia. “Research Misconduct False Claims Act Lawsuit Upheld.” Duane Morris Law Firm. (April 27, 2017). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for medical research fraud, legal representation for clinical research fraud, clinical research fraud defense attorney, medical research fraud defense attorney, legal representation for allegations of clinical research fraud, legal representation for clinical research misconduct, clinical research misconduct defense attorney, legal representation for medical and clinical researcher investigation, legal counsel for falsifying research data, legal counsel for clinical trials and research, legal representation for manipulating data, whistleblower defense attorney, legal representation for whistblowers, legal counsel for whistleblower suits, whistleblower attorney, False Claims Act (FCA) defense attorney, legal representation for FCA violations, legal representation for allegations of FCA violations, health law defense attorney, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, The Health Law Firm reviews
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Texas Appeals Court Affirms$1.37 Million in Sanctions Against Doctor who Sued Hospital Former Employers

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 16, 2016, an appeals court in Texas affirmed a $1.37 million sanction against a doctor. The physician was ordered to pay the fine after the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit he filed against his former employers. The decision affirmed that the actions of his former employers, Baylor College of Medicine (Baylor) and Texas Children’s Hospital, did not cause the litigation fees which the court assessed to the doctor as sanctions.

The case had previously made its way up to the Texas Supreme Court, which makes the November 16, 2016, opinion the second time the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals has weighed in on the case. Additionally, it is the second time it has held the sanctions were merited for Dr. Rahul K. Nath.

The Back Story of the Case.

According to the opinion, Dr. Nath was employed by Baylor as a plastic surgeon and was affiliated with Texas Children’s Hospital. He was fired in 2004 and in February 2006 filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor at Baylor and Texas Children’s. According to court documents, Dr. Nath had accused his former supervisor of making defamatory statements about him after he stopped working. The alleged defamatory statements included that Dr. Nath had been fired, was unqualified and lacked professional ethics and integrity. (Note: We are just stating what was alleged in the lawsuit.)

To read the opinion in full, click here.

Were the Former Employers Responsible for the Accumulated Attorney and Litigation Fees?

The court was considering whether the behavior of Baylor or Texas Children’s was ultimately responsible for the fees accumulated litigation fees and expenses in the case. Previously, the trial court found that both Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions had not caused the expenses for which Dr. Nath was sanctioned. The trial court wrote that the amount was appropriate as it was “far less” than the actual fees incurred by either party in defending Dr. Nath’s claims.

On appeal, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court hadn’t held a proper evidentiary inquiry, that it had based its sanctions award on “conclusory and self-serving” affidavits. Dr. Nath claimed that he was wrongly denied discovery in the case. To learn more about Dr. Nath’s challenge, click here.

Despite Dr. Nath’s arguments, the Fourteenth Court disagreed, holding that the trial court followed the exact instructions from the Supreme Court before deciding to impose the sanctions. Additionally, the court found that there was evidence in the record to support the conclusion that neither Texas Children’s nor Baylor’s conduct caused the expenses that were passed on to Dr. Nath as sanctions.

Adequate Supporting Evidence.

The first time the case came before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, it affirmed the sanctions against Dr. Nath. The high court held that there was evidence to support the trial court’s finding of bad faith and improper purpose on Dr. Nath’s part with regard to certain filings in the case.

Dr. Nath appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in finding the doctor had exercised bad faith and improper purpose in certain filings. The high court remanded it back to the trial court to consider to what extent, if any, Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions may have “caused the expenses for which recovery is sought.”

After a hearing, the trial court determined that neither employer’s behavior caused the expenses, and again imposed the sanctions against Nath. In appealing that ruling to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court had made procedural errors in hearings and evidence submission in reaffirming the sanctions.

The trial court granted Texas Children’s and Baylor’s motions in June 2010, and also sanctioned Dr. Nath $726,000 for a portion of Texas Children’s fees in defending the suit and $644,500 for a portion of Baylor’s. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling, and Dr. Nath appealed to the state Supreme Court.
To learn more about defamatory statements and how to handle such claims, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) investigations, Medicare Audit defense, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Knaub, Kelly. “Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” Law360. (November 16, 2016). Web.

Knaub, Kelly. “Doc To Challenge $1.3M Sanction Before Texas High Court.” Law360. (January 15, 2014). Web.

“Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” LexisNexis. (November 16, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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