Welcome to The Health Law Blog2019-11-12T16:53:24-05:00

9th Circuit Court Rules Former Nurse Can Proceed With Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 29, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a former federal employee can sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The suit alleges medical negligence that occurred during psychiatric treatment for a non-workplace-related injury.

As a result, the three-judge panel of the appeals court said that U.S. Navy veteran and VA nurse S.H.s’ lawsuit against a Seattle VA hospital can proceed. (Please note: we are not providing the nurse’s name out of respect for her privacy.)

In 2019, the district court dismissed S.H.’s federal tort lawsuit because the alleged malpractice occurred when doctors were treating an injury she said she sustained at her workplace. The district court reasoned that all existing or exacerbated injuries stemming from a federal workplace injury must be dealt with through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), even malpractice claims.

Click here to view the district court’s order for the motion to dismiss in full.


Background Details.

The plaintiff in the suit is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffered a mental breakdown at work in October 2011. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital, where she allegedly received negligent treatment. At the time the treatment was sought, she was an employee of the federal government. She claimed years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor caused her mental breakdown. She sued in 2016.

The FTCA authorizes plaintiffs to sue the U.S. for “personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Any individual employee of the government acting within the course and scope of her job duties is immune from liability; the United States is substituted for that person in the suit.


The Big Question: Does the FTCA Authorize Suit by a Plaintiff in This Set of Circumstances?

Two factors complicate the answer in this case. First, when the plaintiff sought treatment, she was an employee of the federal government, working as a registered nurse at the VA hospital. Second, she claimed that her mental breakdown, the event that prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by workplace bullying and harassment at the hands of her supervisor. Hence, this would qualify as a work-related injury.

These facts bring into play another federal statute: the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. FECA establishes a workers’ compensation blueprint that covers most federal employees. It is similar to state workers’ compensation laws.

When an employee sustains an injury covered by FECA, the remedy is to seek compensation under the act; they may not sue for damages under any other provision of law, including the FTCA. Therefore, had the plaintiff sued the U.S. under the FTCA to recover damages for workplace bullying and harassment, the district court would have been required to dismiss the action as barred by FECA.

In this case, however, the plaintiff is not suing for the injuries caused by the workplace bullying and harassment. Instead, she is seeking to recover damages for the alleged medical malpractice by the individual doctors treating her.

Based on these facts, the appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment against the plaintiff in her Federal Tort Claims Act action. It held that the district court erred in dismissing the action on the grounds that it was barred by the FECA.

To view the ninth circuit court’s opinion in full, click here.


Consult a Health Law Attorney Who Is Familiar with Army, Navy, and Air Force Health Care Professionals and Their Problems.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented federal physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, active duty and retired, as well as physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) in the U.S. and around the world. They represent physicians and other health professionals with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Public Health Service (PHS). Representation has included disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “9th Circ. Revives Psychiatric Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital.” Law360. (September 29, 2021). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Former Federal Nurse Gets New Shot at Injury Suit Against US.” Bloomberg Law. (September 29, 2021). Web.


About the Author:
 Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Gov Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On March 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that protects businesses, governments, and healthcare providers in Florida from COVID-19 lawsuits if they make a reasonable effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus (whatever that means). Specifically, the measure gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches as long as the alleged negligence doesn’t involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The House Passed S.B. 72 on March 26, in an 83-31 vote, and DeSantis signed it the same day he received it from the Legislature.

Why doesn’t this conflict with the Florida Governor’s ban on any mandatory masking, vaccination, or vaccination “passport” requirements? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.


Details of Senate Bill 72.

The new law establishes significant legal hurdles for individuals who want to sue businesses and health care professionals over coronavirus-related injuries. Plaintiffs who file suit will need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored public health safety guidelines. They will also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Does this sound arbitrary and capricious to anyone other than me?

Now how can a doctor or anyone else make a statement like the one required by the law? How does a doctor know where the patient has been or with whom the patient has been in contact the last fifteen days? How is a physician going to conduct contact tracing and figure out where the patient’s COVID-19 came from? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.

The law states that it will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. One must ask if this is an ex post facto law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.) and the Florida Constitution (Art. 1, § 10)? Additionally, the new law establishes a one-year limitation period to sue from the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim. Boy, this should really throw a big stumbling block in front of any potential plaintiff trying to get into court. (Note: Yes, I know that the federal prohibition on ex post facto laws was held to apply to criminal laws.)

“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives,” DeSantis said applauding the quick passage of the legislation.

View S.B. 72 here.

To read about a recent case in Florida involving a COVID-19 death lawsuit, click here to read my blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hale, Nathan. “Fla. Gov. Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protection Law.” Law360. (March 29, 2021). Web.

Kang, Y. Peter. “Fla. COVID-19 Biz Liability Shield Bill Sent To Gov.’s Desk.” Law360. (March 26, 2021). Web.

NBC 6 Miami. “Florida Governor Signs COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill.” AP News. (March 29, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Humana Health Insurance Company Agrees To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

Attorney Carole C. Schriefer Headshot

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

 

 

 

University of Colorado Sued For Denying COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemptions

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 29, 2021, a pediatrician and medical student sued the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU) for denying COVID vaccine religious exemptions. The U.S. District Court lawsuit argued that school administrators judge the validity of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

Religious Exception For COVID Vaccine.

Both plaintiffs are challenging the denial of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID vaccination mandate. The lawsuit alleges that the university arbitrarily grants religious exemptions to its vaccine requirement for all staff and students. It also claims that CU is approving requests that are based on organized religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations while subjecting requests based on personal religious beliefs to “intrusive religious inquisition to test the veracity of students’ and employees’ asserted religious beliefs.”

Details of the Denials.

Neither plaintiff is named in the lawsuit ostensibly to protect them from retaliation. Instead, the pediatrician is referred to as “Dr. Jane Doe,” and the first-year medical student as “John Doe.”

According to the complaint, Dr. Jane Doe requested a religious exemption based on her Catholic beliefs and opposition to “abortion-derived cell lines” used in the three available U.S. vaccines. However, she did not oppose other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

Because of this, CU denied her request, stating that campus policy “only recognizes religious exemptions based on a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations,” according to the complaint. Jane Doe argues that her pending termination will harm her reputation and stain her record as a licensed medical professional.

According to the complaint, the second plaintiff, John Doe, a first-year medical student, requested a religious exemption citing his Buddhist beliefs and avoidance of “products developed through the killing or harming of animals (including human beings).”

CU officials also denied the exception request, stating that John Doe’s objections to the vaccine “are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit says John Doe’s pending termination from CU would bar him from transferring to a different medical school under guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges and that he would have to reapply to attend a different U.S. medical program.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the university said their mandatory vaccine policy “offers the best way to protect” the more than two million patients that the university faculty serve annually.

Both plaintiffs seek approval of their requests for religious exemptions and money for court costs and personal damages. This lawsuit is just one example of the fight over a growing number of COVID vaccine mandates nationwide. As a result, businesses need to be mindful and provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID vaccine.

To read about another recent case regarding a hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, medical groups, institutions, and individual health professionals in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health and DORA investigations. We represent medical students and resident physicians in disputes with their medical education programs. We do NOT represent plaintiffs seeking to avoid vaccinations or in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Nieberg, Patty. “University of Colorado faces COVID religious exemption suit.” AP News. (September 29, 2021). Web.

“Pediatrician, medical student sue University of Colorado over denial of COVID vaccine religious exemption.” The Colorado Sun. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Texas Hospital’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Upheld by Federal Court

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

To view the court’s order in full, click here.

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Dental Office Manager Sentenced to 12 Months in Prison for Defrauding Medicaid Out of More Than $813,000

Attorney Carole C. Schriefer Headshot

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On October 1, 2021, a former dental office manager was sentenced to 12 months in prison for her role in a Medicaid fraud scheme. Mahsa Azimirad, was the office manager for Universal Smiles, a D.C.-based dental practice, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington, D.C.

She was indicted in January 2019, along with the dentist who ran the practice. The dentist pleaded guilty in May 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and reportedly admitted that she received over $813,000 through false billings.


The Fraudulent Billing Scheme.

Both the office manager and the dentist were alleged to have participated in a scheme to defraud the D.C. Medicaid Program through their operation of the dental practice. The dentist was a Medicaid provider. As part of the scheme, it is alleged that both of them proceeded to bill Medicaid for thousands of provisional crowns, a significant number of which were allegedly not actually provided to the patients. From August 2012 through February 2014, D.C. Medicaid reportedly paid Universal Smiles approximately $5.4 million in Medicaid reimbursement. Of that amount, it is alleged that the office manager received approximately $813,184.

As part of the sentence, she has been ordered to pay back the full amount she received and will be on three years of supervised release following the completion of her prison term.

Click here to read the press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and learn more.

To read about a similar case that also deals with a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits and Investigations of Dentists and Healthcare Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, medical groups, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, physical therapists, behavior analysts, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, health care facilities, and other health providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits, fraud charges, and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

Martin, Colleen. “Rockville Woman Defrauded Medicaid At Dental Office: US Attorney.” Patch. (October 4, 2021). Web.

Bethesda Beat Staff Reporter. “Rockville woman to serve prison term over D.C. Medicaid fraud.” Bethesda Magazine. (October 4, 2021). Web.

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

9th Circuit Court Says Former Nurse Can Proceed With Medical Malpractice Suit Against VA Hospital

Attorney Carole C. Schriefer Headshot

CAROLE C. SCHRIEFER, J.D.

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On September 29, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a former federal employee can sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The suit alleges medical negligence that occurred during psychiatric treatment for a non-workplace-related injury.

As a result, the three-judge panel of the appeals court said that U.S. Navy veteran and VA nurse S.H.s’ lawsuit against a Seattle VA hospital can proceed. (Please note: we are not providing the nurse’s name out of respect for her privacy.)

In 2019, the district court dismissed S.H.’s federal tort lawsuit because the alleged malpractice occurred when doctors were treating an injury she said she sustained at her workplace. The district court reasoned that all existing or exacerbated injuries stemming from a federal workplace injury must be dealt with through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), even malpractice claims.

Click here to view the district court’s order for the motion to dismiss in full.

Background Details.

The plaintiff in the suit is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffered a mental breakdown at work in October 2011. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital, where she allegedly received negligent treatment. At the time the treatment was sought, she was an employee of the federal government. She claimed years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor caused her mental breakdown. She sued in 2016.

The FTCA authorizes plaintiffs to sue the U.S. for “personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Any individual employee of the government acting within the course and scope of her job duties is immune from liability; the United States is substituted for that person in the suit.

The Big Question: Does the FTCA Authorize Suit by a Plaintiff in This Set of Circumstances?

Two factors complicate the answer in this case. First, when the plaintiff sought treatment, she was an employee of the federal government, working as a registered nurse at the VA hospital. Second, she claimed that her mental breakdown, the event that prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by workplace bullying and harassment at the hands of her supervisor. Hence, this would qualify as a work-related injury.

These facts bring into play another federal statute: the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. FECA establishes a workers’ compensation blueprint that covers most federal employees. It is similar to state workers’ compensation laws.

When an employee sustains an injury covered by FECA, the remedy is to seek compensation under the act; they may not sue for damages under any other provision of law, including the FTCA. Therefore, had the plaintiff sued the U.S. under the FTCA to recover damages for workplace bullying and harassment, the district court would have been required to dismiss the action as barred by FECA.

In this case, however, the plaintiff is not suing for the injuries caused by the workplace bullying and harassment. Instead, she is seeking to recover damages for the alleged medical malpractice by the individual doctors treating her.

Based on these facts, the appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment against the plaintiff in her Federal Tort Claims Act action. It held that the district court erred in dismissing the action on the grounds that it was barred by the FECA.

To view the ninth circuit court’s opinion in full, click here.

Consult a Health Law Attorney Who Is Familiar with Army, Navy, and Air Force Health Care Professionals and Their Problems.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented federal physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, active duty and retired, as well as physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) in the U.S. and around the world. They represent physicians and other health professionals with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Public Health Service (PHS). Representation has included disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “9th Circ. Revives Psychiatric Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital.” Law360. (September 29, 2021). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Former Federal Nurse Gets New Shot at Injury Suit Against US.” Bloomberg Law. (September 29, 2021). Web.

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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