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American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Due Process

Physicians Awarded $22.8 Million after Losing Privileges

According to an article in the May 3, 1999 issue of American Medical News, a Palm Beach County jury has awarded $22.8 million to two radiation oncologists who had sued JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, FL, and the University of Miami School of Medicine for entering into an exclusive contract that led to the terminations of their privileges.

The two physicians practiced at JFK Medical Center under a temporary injunction since December 1997. In their lawsuit, the doctors claimed that the medical center's decision to terminate their privileges so that they could enter into a new exclusive contract with the University of Miami violated the hospital bylaws and interfered with the patient and referring physician relationships established by the doctors over the past 14 years.

"The case carried a lot of important implications for Emergency Medicine," said AAEM president Robert McNamara, MD FAAEM. "This ruling points out another tool democratic groups can use to prevent takeover by a corporate entity. If the physicians are being forced out as part of such a takeover they should assert their rights to due process as guaranteed in the hospital bylaws. The JCAHO requires due process for members of the medical staff so this should be a baseline right for members of democratic groups."

The jury in the case concurred with the doctors. It awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages, with $1.9 million assessed against the hospital and $600,000 against the medical school. The punitive damages were also split between the two defendants, with $12 million assessed against the hospital and $8.25 million against the medical school.

"This case is very interesting in light of AAEM's involvement with democratic groups who are struggling to retain control of their practice," Dr. McNamara said. "It's likely that the head of EM who was forced out of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix surrounding the CHW-EPMG deal would find parallels in this case."