Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2006

Judge rejects hospital chain lawsuit

July 30, 2006


— A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against HCA Inc., the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, saying the cases need to be examined individually.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten this week ruled in favor of HCA, which owns Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

Wichita lawyer Lawrence Williamson contended in a lawsuit filed in April that the hospital chain defrauded patients by directing its affiliated hospitals to staff its nursing units below generally accepted levels.

But Marten said those cases involve medical malpractice that need to be examined on an individual basis, not in a consumer class-action.

"The court finds that plaintiffs' claims are in reality medical malpractice claims, and are not appropriately advanced as claims for consumer protection or unjust enrichment," Marten wrote in his ruling.

Marten ruled that HCA as a corporation could not be held liable for cases at each of its hospitals.

"We thought the lawsuit was absurd to begin with, and we are pleased the judge agreed with us," said Helen Thomas, spokeswoman for Wesley and HCA.

Williamson said he would ask a higher court to review the decision, which would mean an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mildred Spires, whose husband, Joseph, died at HCA's Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

The lawsuit claimed he died because the hospital did not have enough nurses working to care for him when he was hospitalized in 2004. Williamson also sought to include millions of patients at HCA's other hospitals since 1996.

The lawsuit sought class-action status and asked HCA to repay no less than $12.5 billion to millions of patients who have been treated at its hospitals.


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