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

George Indest HeadshotBy 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 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: 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 the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or 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.

By |2021-10-06T16:25:21-04:00October 6th, 2021|Categories: Nursing Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Ex-Employee Claims Disability Discrimination In ADA Suit Against Kaiser Permanente

George Indest Headshot

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

On November 4, 2020, a former employee of Kaiser Permanente Insurance filed a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claiming discrimination. She says the company required her to take a “competency test” to determine if she could keep her job after the Atlanta business learned of her medical disability (anxiety and depression). The suit claims that the insurance company refused to accommodate her disability and fired her after she failed.

Alleged Disability Discrimination.

The plaintiff worked for Kaiser Permanente Georgia Region between October 2010 and August 2020. According to the lawsuit that was filed, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2018 and in May 2019 but was cleared by her physician to work. According to the suit, Kaiser Permanente singled her out, forced her to disclose her anxiety and depression, and required her to take a “competency test” for a job she already held. It is worth noting that mental conditions such as “anxiety and depression,” are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In March 2019, the plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation—i.e., a postponement of the testing until she was mentally stable enough to sit for the test. She claims her request was denied outright by Kaiser despite its knowledge of her disability. Per the complaint, the plaintiff was told that she had failed the competency test, despite never having received her scores. In August 2019, she was retested and Kaiser told her that she failed.

On November 8, 2019, the employee was terminated because she “no longer met the job requirements and was not successful at passing the second attempt of the competency test,” the complaint said.

Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA.

The former employee alleged disability discrimination, unlawful medical requests, and failure to accommodate her disabilities under the ADA. She’s seeking unspecified damages for loss of past and future income, mental anguish, and emotional distress, along with her court costs and attorney fees.

Click here to read the complaint in full.

For more information, read our prior blog on a similar case dealing with an insurance company that was sued for mental health discrimination.

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 nurses, resident physicians, mental health counselors, social workers, pharmacists, and health facilities. It also includes medical students, 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.

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:

Konnath, Hailey. “Kaiser Permanente Hit With ADA Suit Over Competency Tests.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

Shaak, Erin. “Singled Out: Lawsuit Claims Kaiser Permanente Denied ‘Competency Test’ Accommodation for Ex-Employee with Disability.” Newswire. (November 5, 2020). 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 the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or 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

By |2021-02-24T12:12:50-05:00February 25th, 2021|Categories: Medical Education Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments
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