Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

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Elaine Kirt died in 2010, due to complications that developed shortly after undergoing eye surgery. On September 23, 2011, her son, Neville Kirt, appearing in person and on behalf of his deceased mother and his two brothers, filed a request with the Division of Administration asking for a medical review panel to review the care provided to his mother by three defendants: Dr. Rebecca Metzinger, the attending surgeon; Dr. Theodore Strickland III, the anesthesiologist for the procedure; and Tulane Medical Center. In a reply letter to Neville, the Patient’s Compensation Fund Oversight Board (PCF) acknowledged receipt of the request; confirmed Dr. Metzinger, Dr. Strickland, and Tulane University Hospital & Clinic were qualified under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (Act); informed Kirt a filing fee of $100 per qualified defendant was due; and requested payment of $300. The notice stated the failure to pay would render the request invalid, without effect, and would not suspend the time to file suit. Days later, then appearing through counsel, the Kirts sent a second letter asking to amend its previous request, adding two additional nurses. The Kirts included a $500 check to cover filing fees. A medical review panel convened, reviewed the care provided by all named healthcare providers, and found no breach of the standard of care. The Kirts thereafter filed against the doctors and nurses. Claims against the doctors were dismissed by summary judgments because there was no proof they breached the standard of care while treating Elaine Kirt. Those judgments expressly barred allocating fault to the dismissed parties and prohibited introducing evidence at trial to establish their fault. The nurses then filed peremptory exceptions of prescription, claiming the request for a medical review panel was invalid because the Kirts failed to pay the final $100 filing fee, and prescription was not suspended for any claims. The trial court concurred with the nurses and granted an exception of prescription. The Supreme Court determined that because the Kirts paid filing fees for five of six named defendants, dismissal of one of the nurses was proper for lack of a filing fee. The Court determined the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' argument that they could not have reasonable known about the claims against two of the nurse defendants until one was deposed. Because the lower courts did not consider or decide the merits of the Kirts' basis for the exception of prescription, which could have turned on factual findings, the Supreme Court pretermitted consideration of these arguments and remanded the matter to the trial court for further disposition of the exception. View "Kirt v. Metzinger" on Justia Law

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Brian Ehrhart died within days of contracting hantavirus near his Issaquah, Washington home in early 2017. His widow, Sandra Ehrhart, sued King County’s public health department, Swedish Medical Center, and an emergency room physician, arguing all three had negligently caused Brian's death. King County asserted public duty as an affirmative defense, arguing it was not liable for Brian’s death because it did not owe him any duty as an individual. Ehrhart moved for partial summary judgment asking the court to dismiss this defense and others. The trial court granted Ehrhart’s motion but conditioned its ruling on the jury finding particular facts. King County appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct discretionary review. The issues presented were: (1) whether the trial court could properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; and (2) whether the regulations governing King COunty's responsibility to issue health advisories created a duty owed to Brian individually as opposed to a non actionable duty owed to the public as a whole. The Supreme Court determined the trial court could not properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; summary judgment was appropriate only when there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Court concluded King County did not owe an individualized duty to Brian, and no exception to the public duty doctrine applied in this case. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court, and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of King County on its public duty doctrine defense. View "Ehrhart v. King County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court involuntarily committing Appellant to the Montana State Hospital (MSH) for a period not to exceed ninety days, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the court's finding that Appellant was substantially unable to provide for her own basic needs. After a hearing, the district court issued its findings that Appellant suffered from a serious mental illness requiring commitment because she represented a danger to herself and because she was unable to care for her own basic needs. The court concluded that commitment to MSH was the least restrictive alternative necessary to protect Appellant and to effectively treat her mental disorder. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that sufficient facts supported the district court's finding that Appellant required commitment to MSH. View "In re Mental Health of W.K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed as moot Appellant's appeal from a judgment entered by the superior court ordering the involuntary medical treatment of Appellant, holding that because Appellant was no longer subject to the court's involuntary treatment order, this appeal was moot. Appellant was arrested and charged with burglary and theft by unauthorized taking. While Appellant was in preconviction detention at the mental health unit of the Maine State Prison (MSP) the Department of Corrections filed an application pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 34-A, 3049 seeking the involuntary medication of Appellant. The court entered an ex parte order granting the emergency application and permitting the immediate medication of Appellant for a period of 120 days. Appellant appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the appeal as moot, holding that because Appellant was no longer at the mental health unit of the MSP and the involuntary treatment order had expired, the appeal was moot and no exceptions to the mootness doctrine applied. View "In re Involuntary Treatment of K." on Justia Law

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In January 2017, plaintiffs Lori Dougherty and Julie Lee's 89-year-old father passed away while living in Somerford Place, an elder residential care facility owned and operated by defendants Roseville Heritage Partners, Somerford Place, LLC, Five Star Quality Care, Inc., and Five Star Quality Care-Somerford, LLC. In July 2017, plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging elder abuse and wrongful death based upon the reckless and negligent care their father received while residing in defendants’ facility. Defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion to compel arbitration and stay the action, contending the arbitration agreement did not contain any unconscionable or unlawful provisions. Alternatively, defendants argued the court abused its discretion by invalidating the agreement as a whole, rather than severing the offending provisions. The Court of Appeal found the arbitration agreement at issue here was "buried within the packet at pages 43 through 45," and "[b]ased on the adhesiveness of the agreement, and the oppression and surprise present," the Court concluded the trial court properly found the Agreement was imposed on a “take it or leave it” basis and evinced a high degree of procedural unconscionability. Under the sliding scale approach, only a low level of substantive unconscionability was required to render the arbitration agreement unenforceable. Likewise, the Court concurred that the arbitration agreement was substantively unconscionable, "particularly given the accompanying evidence of procedural unconscionability." The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's declination to sever the offending provisions of the agreement, rather than invalidate the entire agreement. View "Dougherty v. Roseville Heritage Partners" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Plaintiffs, patients whose healthcare providers used eClinicalWorks, LLC (ECW) software to record and store their medical records, lacked standing to bring this case, holding that, without further injury, Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this case. Plaintiffs were the estates of two deceased patients whose medical records were kept and stored by healthcare providers using ECW. Plaintiffs alleged that ECW's system was riddled with bugs that showed healthcare providers false and incomplete data about patients' medical problems and treatments and that ECW hid the glitches from government regulators. Plaintiffs brought several state common-law claims and sought to represent a class of millions of other similarly-situated patients. The district court dismissed the case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the arguments as presented sought redress based on a moot risk of misdiagnosis or mistreatment that no statute or common-law claim makes suable. Therefore, Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this case. View "Amrhein v. eClinical Works, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a qui tam action brought by relator under the False Claims Act, alleging that defendants submitted, or caused to be submitted, Medicare claims falsely certifying that patients' inpatient hospitalizations were medically necessary. After determining that it had jurisdiction, the panel held that a plaintiff need not allege falsity beyond the requirements adopted by Congress in the FCA, which primarily punishes those who submit, conspire to submit, or aid in the submission of false or fraudulent claims. The panel wrote that Congress imposed no requirement of proving "objective falsity," and the panel had no authority to rewrite the statute to add such a requirement. The panel held that a doctor’s clinical opinion must be judged under the same standard as any other representation. The panel explained that a doctor, like anyone else, can express an opinion that he knows to be false, or that he makes in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. Therefore, a false certification of medical necessity can give rise to FCA liability. The panel also held that a false certification of medical necessity can be material because medical necessity is a statutory prerequisite to Medicare reimbursement. View "Winter v. Gardens Regional Hospital & Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Mississippi State Department of Health entered a final order approving a Certificate of Need for Wound Care Management, LLC, d/b/a MedCentris for the “[p]rovision of [d]igital [s]ubtraction [a]ngiography (DSA) services (Limb Salvage Program).” Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, d/b/a Merit Health River Region, a hospital in Vicksburg that opposed the certificate of need, appealed the Department’s statutorily affirmed decision pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 41-7-201(2) (Rev. 2018). After considering the record and issues presented, the Mississippi Supreme Court entered an order on its own motion requiring supplemental briefing regarding whether Section 41-7-201(2), as amended, governed the appeal process pertaining to facilities established for the private practice, either independently or by incorporated medical groups of physicians. The Supreme Court held that River Region lacked the right to petition the chancery court for review of the certificate of need under Section 41-7-201(2). Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the case and remanded it to the Hinds County Chancery Court for further proceedings. View "Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC v. Mississippi Dept. of Health & Wound Care Management, LLC" on Justia Law

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The insured, Brenda Sandoval, submitted a claim to her insurer, Unum Life Insurance Company of America, which initially paid benefits but then terminated them. The termination of benefits led Sandoval to sue Unum for: (1) a common-law tort (bad faith breach of insurance contract); (2) a statutory tort (unreasonable conduct under Colo. Rev. Stat. sec. 10-3-1115 to 1116); and (3) breach of contract. The district court granted Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment on the tort claims. The contract claim went to trial, where the jury rendered a verdict for Sandoval. The district court later denied Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Sandoval appealed the grant of Unum’s motion for partial summary judgment, and Unum cross-appealed the denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the award of partial summary judgment on the tort claims because Unum conducted a reasonable investigation. On the contract claim, the Court also affirmed the denial of Unum’s motion for judgment as a matter of law: the policy contained two alternative tests for a disability, and the evidence permitted a reasonable finding that Sandoval had satisfied at least one of these definitions. View "Sandoval v. UNUM Life Insurance" on Justia Law

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Until 2010, Reinaas, now in his mid‐fifties, worked as a machine operator. He injured his spine and tore his rotator cuff on the job, and underwent two neck fusion surgeries. Reinaas planned to return to work but continued to suffer from severe headaches (treated with hydrocodone), shoulder pain, and a decreased range of motion. A neurologist diagnosed him with cervicogenic headaches, and his family doctor diagnosed “long term nuchal headaches” and “[p]ermanent pain syndrome post cervical fusion.” Dr. Bodeau, a Mayo Clinic occupational physician, opined that Reinaas could not return to his factory job and suggested surgical intervention. In 2013, Reinaas had shoulder surgery and attended physical therapy; he took naproxen and Vicodin for pain. Reinaas applied for social security disability benefits. Benefits were denied after state‐retained physicians reviewed his records and concluded that Reinaas’s accounts of his symptoms were not fully credible. Dr. Bodeau opined that Reinaas had “deteriorated significantly” and was “highly unlikely to successfully regain employment at any physical demand level.” The ALJ concluded that Reinaas was not disabled. In determining Reinaas’s residual functional capacity, the ALJ afforded great weight to the opinions of the two non‐examining physicians and gave little weight to Dr. Bodeau’s opinion, explaining that Bodeau lacked knowledge of Social Security disability rules and that his report was based on subjective complaints of questionable credibility. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s decision to discount the treating physician’s opinion and the ALJ did not adequately evaluate Reinaas’s subjective complaints. View "Reinaas v. Saul" on Justia Law