Tenet Settles Bogus Heart Surgery Claims

The Recorder
By Jeff Chorney
December 22, 2004

Tenet Healthcare Corp. has agreed to pay $395 million to settle 769 claims
that doctors at its Redding hospital performed unnecessary heart surgeries.

The massive settlement — which must still be approved by 95 percent of the
plaintiffs and a Shasta County judge — will end litigation against the
health care giant in connection with the surgeries.

Once approved, the settlement money will immediately go into an
interest-accruing fund, and plaintiffs can expect to see payouts as early
as
January, said Luke Ellis of Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen of Orinda,
which represents 186 of the plaintiffs.

Ellis noted that the cases were resolved relatively quickly. The
questionable surgeries came to light when FBI agents raided Tenet’s Redding
Medical Center in October 2002, and many of the lawsuits were filed just
last year.

“You could spend years litigating these cases,” Ellis said. Since the
alleged victims range in age from mid-60s to 90, he said, a protracted
legal
battle would have meant that many of them would “never get a chance to have
[their] day in court.”

In a statement, Trevor Fetter, Tenet’s president and chief executive
officer, characterized the settlement as “the fair and honorable way to
conclude this very sad chapter.”

How much money each plaintiff will receive is confidential, and Ellis
declined to discuss attorneys fees. The lawyers did not seek class action
status, he said, because it’s hard to make personal injury fit into that
rubric. “Every injury is different,” said Ellis. “Every injury is
complicated.”

Since the Redding scandal erupted, Tenet has come under fire for its
medical
and business practices at other California hospitals. The company has since
sold the Redding facility.

Along with the plaintiff suits, Tenet was also under investigation by state
and federal authorities for its practices in Redding. It settled with
government investigators over the summer for $54 million.

In addition, plaintiff lawyers sued a number of physicians in connection
with the heart operations. They reached a confidential agreement with
cardiologists several months ago, and litigation against four surgeons is
slated to begin next summer. Ellis said there are 10 “test” cases against
the surgeons. As soon as those play out, the other cases against the
surgeons will likely settle.

Of the 769 plaintiffs, most are former patients, but 94 are surviving
family
members who filed wrongful death cases.

Ellis said he didn’t expect to have any trouble getting plaintiffs to sign
on to the agreement.

“I think when people realize what this means to them,” they will agree, he
said. “It will change their life in a major way.”

The procedures at issue include bypasses, valve replacements and
catheterizations. Ellis said they often created additional medical problems
and caused depression in those who underwent them.

“The heart is a metaphysical part of your body. It’s not just an organ,” he
said.

The lead plaintiff firm is Redding’s Reiner, Simpson, Timmons & Slaughter.
Also representing plaintiffs are Barr & Mudford of Redding, and Moriarty &
Leyendecker of Houston, Texas.

San Francisco behemoth Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein represents 10
plaintiffs. Ellis said they were also included in the settlement.

The case is In re Tenet Healthcare III, J.C.C.P. 4301.

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[...] One hospital in California did unnecessary heart surgeries. [...]

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