Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Respondent Robert Chaney was fired from his position and argued his termination violated the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). The employer, Providence Health Care d/b/a Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital (Providence), claimed no violation of the FMLA occurred. The trial court denied motions for a directed verdict on the issue by both Chaney and Providence. Based upon undisputed facts, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in failing to grant Chaney's motion for a directed verdict that as a matter of law the hospital violated the FMLA. In 2005, his wife fell ill after giving birth, Chaney himself suffered a back injury, and he relied heavily on FMLA leave over the next two years. By June 2007, Chaney had used up most of his FMLA leave and had been donated leave from other employees. The record indicated that Providence administration and other staff were growing resentful that Chaney had taken so much time off. In 2007, an employee reported that Chaney appeared fatigued and incoherent. Although no claim was made that his work was compromised, Chaney was ordered to report for drug testing. The drug test was positive for methadone. Chaney had a prescription for methadone to treat back pain, but the doctor who gave the drug test noted that Chaney "[m]ay need fitness for duty evaluation or visit to his Dr. to fine tune his medication." A few months later, Chaney indicated he was prepared to return to work. The record reflected that Chaney was erroneously informed he needed Providence's permission to return to work. This violated the FMLA, under which Chaney could only be required to get authorization from his own health care provider. Chaney went to Providence's doctor, and administration told him the hospital would not allow him to return to work unless their doctor changed his recommended restriction. The hospital's doctor refused to change his recommendation. Subsequently, Chaney was fired. Providence claimed the termination was proper because Chaney failed to provide a valid fitness for work certification as required under the FMLA. View "Chaney v. Providence Health Care" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court concerned whether, in civil litigation, a party could decline to produce requested discoverable information on the basis that to locate the information would require consulting privileged documents. Petitioners Peacehealth and St. Joseph Hospital sought a protective order to prevent them from being required to review its quality assurance records to identify discoverable medical records in a medical negligence suit. The Court's policy favoring open discovery required "privileges in derogation of the common law" be narrowly construed. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that the prohibition of "review" in Washington's quality improvement statute, RCW 70.41.200, refers to external review and not internal review. The Court held in this case that the hospital's consultation of its own privileged database to identify relevant, discoverable files that fall outside of the privilege would not violate the hospital's privilege. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and reversed the trial court. View "Lowy v. PeaceHealth" on Justia Law