Last Monday the Tenth Circuit socked a heart surgeon with a $733,000 legal bill for his challenge of a Tulsa hospital’s termination of his practice privileges. The twist is that it’s a bill for the hospital’slawyers—not the physician’s. He was already on the hook for those.
Heart surgeon George Cohlmia practiced at St. John Medical Center. One patient died during a procedure and another was permanently disfigured. St. John reviewed the matter and determined that the surgeon had failed to follow proper protocols. His privileges were suspended—an action upheld by a review committee, the medical executive committee, and the St. John board, all in accord with the hearing and review provisions of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA).
Dr. Cohlmia did not go peacefully. He made a federal case of it—eight of them, in fact, against 19 defendants, alleging everything from defamation to monopoly to racial discrimination (he had Native American patients). He lost every claim, on either motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed.
St. John asked for attorneys’ fees, citing provisions of HCQIA. That statute was enacted to remove what Congress deemed a serious obstacle to evaluation of physician conduct: fear of lawsuits that, even when groundless, are expensive. Under the act, if a hospital follows its procedural requirements and a physician files a groundless lawsuit, the hospital can collect its attorneys’ fees.
When St. John asked for attorneys’ fees, both the district court and the Tenth Circuit agreed that St. John had followed the HCQIA procedures and that the suits were groundless. So Dr. Cohlmia has to pay St. John’s attorneys’ fees.
The case is Cohlmia v. St. John Medical Center, Case No. 12-5188.