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RECENT LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS
In two recent cases, appellate courts in neighboring states have rejected physicians’ claims against hospitals that terminated the physicians’ medical staff appointments based on unprofessional behavior. These cases illustrate the difficulties faced by physicians who challenge peer review actions and the cost of litigation to all parties.
In Sternberg v. Nanticoke Memorial Hospital (issued March 2011), Dr. Sternberg sued the hospital and a number of individuals, challenging a precautionary suspension issued by the Hospital’s Medical Executive Committee in 2008. The trial court rejected Dr. Sternberg’s claim, dismissing the case and awarding attorneys’ fees to the defendants. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed the award of summary judgment in favor of the Hospital and other defendants, agreeing with the trial court that the defendants were entitled to immunity from Dr. Sternberg’s claims under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act and the Delaware Medical Peer Review Statute. The Court reversed the award of attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $285,000 to the defendants.
In Freilich v. Upper Chesapeake Health Systems (issued December 2011), Dr. Freilich sued the hospital and other entities and individuals after her application for reappointment was denied in 2000, claiming that the denial of reappointment was based on retaliation because of her complaints about quality issues. Two lower courts granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital and other defendants on the basis of immunity under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed the decision, concluding that Dr. Freilich’s general allegations of retaliation were not connected to the Board’s decision to terminate her privileges and thus were not sufficient to overcome immunity granted to the hospital.
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