Physician wins $5.7M judgment against hospital chain

A Southern California physician has prevailed in a lawsuit against a hospital chain he said retaliated against him for objecting to its acquisition of an Orange County hospital.

The California Supreme Court upheld the $5.7 million judgment in favor of Michael Fitzgibbons, M.D., reinstating it after a lower appellate court had ruled in favor of Integrated Healthcare Holdings (IHHI), which owns four hospitals in Orange County, Healthcare Finance News reported.

The lawsuit claimed that former IHHI Chief Executive Officer Bruce Mogel retaliated against Fitzgibbons after he voiced objections to the company acquiring Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where Fitzgibbons served as chief of staff. IHHI defaulted on two loans not longer after it acquired the facility, and Fitzgibbons alerted other employees of that fact. IHHI sued Fitzgibbons and lost.

Not long after that lawsuit, Fitzgibbons was arrested for allegedly brandishing a firearm during a road rage incident. Police found a gun and cocaine in his car. He was not charged after it was determined his DNA was not on the weapon. Fitzgibbons also claimed someone later tampered with his car, causing it to crash and seriously injure his daughter and two Japanese exchange students. 

Mogel left IHHI in 2008, after an investigation by an outside law firm appeared to substantiate the gun planting claim, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Legal accountability is long overdue for the wrongdoing done by hospital administration against physicians and other medical staff," Andrew Schlafly, general counsel for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, told Healthcare Finance News.

Retaliation against potentially whistleblowing hospital staff is not unheard of. In Winkler County, Texas, two nurses were prosecuted after filing complaints against a doctor. The complaints were later substantiated. In another case, four cardiologists at a Northern California hospital were forced out of their jobs for voicing concerns about patient safety.

To learn more:
- read the Healthcare Finance News article 
- check out the Los Angeles Times article