Articles Posted in Health Law

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E. Kendrick Smith, an Atlanta lawyer, brought this action to compel a corporation, Northside Hospital, Inc. and its parent company, Northside Health Services, Inc., (collectively, “Northside”), to provide him with access to certain documents in response to his request under the Georgia Open Records Act (“the Act”). A government agency owns and operates a large and complex hospital as part of its mission to provide healthcare throughout Fulton County. The agency leased its assets (including the hospital) to the Northside for a 40-year term at a relatively minimal rent. All governmental powers were delegated to Northside with respect to running the hospital and other assets. Northside’s organizing documents reflected that its purpose aligned with the agency’s: to provide healthcare for the benefit of the public. Thirty years into the arrangement, the corporation became “massive,” and owned other assets in surrounding counties. In resisting Smith’s request for records, Northside argued it no didn’t really do anything on behalf of the agency (in part because the now nearly-nonexistent agency has no idea what the corporation is doing), and thus the corporation’s records of a series of healthcare-related acquisitions weren’t subject to public inspection. The Georgia Supreme Court surmised that if the corporation’s aggressive position were wholly correct, it would cast serious doubt on the legality of the whole arrangement between Northside and the agency. Smith argued everything Northside did was for the agency’s benefit and thus all of its records were public. The Supreme Court concluded both were wrong: Northside’s operation of the hospital and other leased facilities was a service it performed on behalf of the agency, so records related to that operation were public records. But whether the acquisition-related records sought here were also public records depended on how closely related the acquisition was to the operation of the leased facilities, a factual question for the trial court to determine on remand. View "Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Women’s Surgical Center, LLC d/b/a Georgia Advanced Surgery Center for Women (the “Center”) planned to add a second operating room to its premises in order to create opportunities to form contracts with additional surgeons who could then use the Center in connection with their medical practices. However, any such change to the Center could only be legally accomplished if the Center sought and was granted a certificate of need (“CON”) by the Georgia Department of Community Health (the “Department”). Because the Center believed that it should not be subject to the CON requirements, it filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Department in an effort to have Georgia’s applicable CON law and the regulations authorizing it declared unconstitutional. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because the Center failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing its lawsuit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, then both the Center and the Department filed motions for summary judgment with regard to the Center’s constitutional claims. The trial court rejected all of the Center’s constitutional challenges and granted summary judgment to the Department. In Case No. S17A1317, the Center appealed that ruling, and in Case No. S17X1318, the Department appealed the denial of its motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in both cases. View "Womens Surgical Center, LLC v. Berry" on Justia Law

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Bernard Norton, by and through Kim Norton, brought a wrongful death action against a number of defendants who were affiliated with a nursing home in which his wife, Lola Norton, died. Bernard claimed that negligent treatment caused Lola’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and Bernard appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and entered into by a decedent and/or her power of attorney, which bound the decedent and her estate to arbitration, was also enforceable against the decedent’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action. The Court found that such an arbitration agreement did bind the decedent’s beneficiaries with respect to their wrongful death claims, and, accordingly, reversed the Court of Appeals. View "United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Olga Zarate-Martinez filed a medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Michael D. Echemendia, Atlanta Women’s Health Group, P.C., Atlanta Women’s Health Group, II, LLC, and North Crescent Surgery Center, LLC (collectively “Echemendia”), for damages for injuries she sustained during an open laparoscopic tubal ligation that was allegedly negligently performed and which resulted in a perforated bowel. Zarate-Martinez attached to her complaint an affidavit from Dr. Errol G. Jacobi. She later identified Dr. Charles J. Ward as an expert for summary judgment purposes, but she never submitted an affidavit from Dr. Ward in support of her complaint. Echemendia deposed Dr. Ward and Dr. Jacobi, moved to strike the testimony from both doctors on the grounds that they did not qualify as experts, and also moved for summary judgment. Without any reference to some constitutional issues raised, on February 21, 2013, the trial court issued an order striking both experts’ testimony, but granted Zarate-Martinez 45 days in which to file an affidavit from a competent expert witness. Zarate-Martinez timely submitted another affidavit, this time from Dr. Nancy Hendrix, and Echemendia again moved to strike. Zarate-Martinez then filed a supplemental affidavit from Hendrix outside of the 45-day time frame, and, in her reply to the motion to strike, reasserted her constitutional challenges to OCGA 24-7-702 (c). Zarate-Martinez also asserted a new constitutional claim, specifically, that the provisions of OCGA 24-7-702 (c) (2) (A) and (B) were unconstitutionally vague. The trial court struck Hendrix's affidavits, and, without any affidavits from qualified medical experts to support her claim, the trial court dismissed Zarate-Martinez's complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed and did not reach the constitutional issues since the trial court never addressed them. The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision and that of the trial court with respect to the application of OCGA 24-7-702 (c) and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the admissibility of Hendrix's testimony. View "Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs in this case were providers and recipients of Medicaid services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who claimed that the defendant administrative agencies and their commissioners failed to follow the required procedures before reducing the reimbursement rates paid to the providers and limiting the services available to the recipients. The plaintiffs did not submit their claims to the agencies for administrative review, instead filing their lawsuit with the trial court. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, but the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the defendants’ alleged failure to give the plaintiffs proper notice of adverse agency decisions excused the plaintiffs from the exhaustion requirement. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the plaintiffs were required to raise their defective notice claims in the administrative review process in the first instance. View "Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health Developmental Disabilities v. United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lee V. Phillips IV, by and through his mother Santhonia Hector, and Hector individually (collectively “Plaintiffs”), brought a medical malpractice action against certified nurse midwife (“CNM”) Marcia Harmon, Deborah Haynes, M.D., Eagles Landing OB-GYN Associates, P.C., Eagles Landing OB-GYN Associates II, LLC, and Henry Medical Center, Inc. (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ negligence caused Phillips to suffer oxygen deprivation shortly before birth, resulting in severe, permanent neurological injuries, including spastic quadriplegia, blindness, and an inability to speak. A jury returned a verdict for the Defendants. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that the trial court erred by engaging in a communication with the jury when neither the parties nor their attorneys were present, and by refusing to give their requested jury charge on the spoliation of evidence. The trial court denied the motion, and Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give Plaintiffs' requested charge on spoliation of evidence; however, it reversed the trial court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for new trial after determining that Plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial because the trial court responded to a note from the jury during the course of their deliberations without ever advising the parties or their counsel that the communication had taken place. After review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court's exercise of discretion in ruling that Defendants had no duty to preserve certain paper fetal monitor strips, and the appellate court's upholding of that ruling, appeared to rest on a legally incorrect premise that a defendant's duty to preserve evidence required actual notice of a claim or litigation. "Consequently, the judgment of the Court of Appeals in regard to the spoliation issue cannot be upheld, and to the extent that the Court of Appeals cases dealing with the issue of spoliation may be read as endorsing the erroneous analysis used in this case." The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Phillips v. Harmon" on Justia Law

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The Medical Center, Inc. (TMC) provided hospital care to Danielle Bowden, who did not have health insurance, after she was injured in a car wreck. TMC billed her $21,409.59 for her care, and filed a hospital lien for that amount. In a subsequent lawsuit, Bowden sought to invalidate the lien on the ground that the billed charges were grossly excessive and did not reflect the reasonable value of the care she received. TMC alleged that $21,409.59 was a reasonable amount for Bowden's care and sought a declaratory judgment establishing the validity of its lien. During discovery, TMC objected to Bowden's requests for, among other things, information and documents regarding the amounts that the hospital charged insured patients for the same type of care. Bowden filed a motion to compel discovery, which the trial court granted subject to the entry of a protective order to ensure confidentiality. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion because "the discovery Bowden seeks is not relevant to her claim that TMC's medical charges for her treatment were unreasonable." The Supreme Court granted Bowden's petition for certiorari to review that holding. "[W]here the subject matter of a lawsuit includes the validity and amount of a hospital lien for the reasonable charges for a patient's care, how much the hospital charged other patients, insured or uninsured, for the same type of care during the same time period is relevant for discovery purposes." The Supreme Court reversed, concluding the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise and in holding on that ground that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Bowden's motion to compel. View "Bowden v. The Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law

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In "MCG Health, Inc. v. Kight," (750 SE2d 813 (2013)), the Court of Appeals held that MCG Health, Inc. (Hospital) was not precluded from filing a hospital lien in order to collect charges associated with the treatment of Christopher Kight. Specifically, the court found that, as a matter of fact, the trial court erred in its determination that the lien was invalid because there was no debt owing at the time it was filed. Concomitantly, the court held that the trial court’s related grant of attorney fees to Kight. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in order to determine “[w]hether the Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the award of partial summary judgment, attorney fees and expenses of litigation to [Kight].” Kight received treatment at MCG after he was injured in a car wreck. By considering the purpose of the lien statute, the Supreme Court concluded that the Hospital’s lien was valid at the time that it was filed. Contrary to the ruling of the trial court and Kight’s arguments on certiorari review, the Hospital was owed money on the date that the lien was filed. As a result, Kight’s principal argument that there was no debt on which to base any lien was invalid. Likewise, Kight’s corollary argument that the Hospital waived its right to impose a lien also failed based on the facts of this case. Because the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling that the Hospital’s lien was valid, it also affirmed the ruling that the award of attorney fees against MCG was improper. View "Kight v. MCG Health, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Health Law

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In March 2010, Justyna Kunz was involved in a car accident with GEICO's insureds, Crystal, Joseph, and Elizabeth Kalish. Kunz received medical treatment at Athens Regional Medical Center; the Hospital Authority of Clarke County and Athens Regional Medical Center (collectively, "the Hospitals") filed three hospital liens. Kunz subsequently filed suit against the Kalishes. Kunz's attorney wrote a letter to the Kalishes' attorney accepting their $100,000 policy limit settlement offer. The settlement documents, signed in Fall 2010, expressly required Kunz to satisfy the hospital liens out of the settlement fund and constituted a "general[ ] release ... from all legal and equitable claims of every kind and nature." The liens were never satisfied. The Court of Appeals held that, under OCGA 44–14–473 (a), the Hospitals were barred by a one-year statute of limitations from filing suit against GEICO to collect on the hospital liens. The Hospitals appealed the appellate court's decision. Finding that the appellate court erred in arriving at its conclusion, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Hospital Authority of Clarke County v. GEICO General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Appellee Steven Wilson is a licensed optometrist, providing eye care services in Lowndes County as Wilson Eye Center (“WEC”). Appellees Cynthia McMurray, Jodie E. Summers, and David Price are also licensed optometrists employed by WEC. Prior to 2010, Spectera, Inc. had entered provider contracts ("Patriot contracts") with Wilson and McMurray and they became members of Spectera's panel of eye care providers. Summers was already on Spectera's panel of eye care providers. Under the Patriot contract, Spectera would reimburse appellees for the materials Spectera insureds used from WEC's inventory by paying appellees a fee for their materials' costs and by having Spectera insureds remit a materials copayment to appellees. Spectera decided to terminate its Patriot contracts and replace them with independent participating provider (IPP) agreements. After the trial court temporarily enjoined Spectera from enforcing its IPP agreement, Spectera sought to remove appellees Wilson, Summers, and McMurray from its approved panel of providers. The trial court enjoined Spectera from taking such action. Although Price was not on Spectera's provider panel, he alleged Spectera violated Georgia law by denying him membership on its panel because of his refusal to sign the IPP agreement. Upon considering the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted issued a permanent injunction precluding Spectera from enforcing the restrictions contained in the IPP agreement as to "any other licensed eye care provider on [Spectera's] provider panel" or those who had applied for admittance to the panel. Spectera appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in part and reversed in part. Upon review of Spectera's appeal, the Supreme Court concluded a portion of the IPP agreement violated Georgia law, and therefore sustained the Court of Appeals in one respect. However, because the IPP agreement did create the type of impermissible discrimination between classes of licensed eye care providers contemplated by the applicable law, the Court of Appeals was incorrect in concluding that the IPP agreement violated that particular subsection of the applicable law. Furthermore, the termination of any outstanding contracts with appellees Wilson, McMurray, and Summers should have been based on the lawful terms stated in the contracts and not based on a permanent court injunction. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Spectera, Inc. v. Wilson" on Justia Law