Tuesday, 28 May, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalImpairment-accused US GP wins millions in damages lawsuit

Impairment-accused US GP wins millions in damages lawsuit

A US family physician, accused by a young patient’s mother of being impaired at work, has won his lawsuit against a Kentucky hospital, with the judge awarding him millions for emotional distress and contract damages against a medical group.

Medscape reports that Dr John Farmer was awarded $3.7m from Baptist Health Madisonville and Baptist Health Medical Group for a series of actions they took against him after the impairment complaint.

Farmer said his career was disrupted because he couldn’t finish his residency on time, and he had difficulty finding full-time employment.

The young doctor was in his third year of residency at the hospital in 2019 when the mother of two young patients accused him of being “on something”, said Kathleen DeLaney, the attorney who represented Farmer.

On the day in question, he had worked a full day in the clinic at Baptist Health, and in the afternoon, conducted a routine appointment with two children while their mother, her boyfriend, and a medical student were present.

Afterwards, the mother issued a complaint to an office manager that Farmer was impaired, noting that he was “touching his nose a lot”, according to the lawsuit.

The next morning, hospital administrators asked Farmer whether he had been impaired the day before, to which he replied, “Absolutely not”, court documents state. Farmer asked for a urine drug screen immediately, but administrators allegedly said he needed to be tested at the Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation in Louisville.

Farmer immediately made the three-hour drive to the facility, and Baptist Health placed him on leave, pending the evaluation. The health foundation sent Farmer to a third-party vendor to complete a urine drug screen, which returned a result of “dilute”. (A “dilute” result occurs when the urine concentration is weak because of too much water in the urine and testers are unable to detect whether alcohol or drugs are present.)

He was then instructed to go to a separate alcohol treatment facility for a 96-hour evaluation, where he was ultimately diagnosed with mild alcohol use disorder, said DeLaney. The facility did not recommend he receive any inpatient care, she added.

Hospital administrators later sent a letter to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure alerting them of the patient’s complaint. The board opened an investigation, and Farmer had to sign an interim order agreeing not to practise medicine until approved by the board.

The order was reported to the National Practitioner’s Data Bank (NPDB).

To maintain his employment and complete his residency, Farmer was ultimately required to sign a two-year agreement with the Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation, which included regular testing, monitoring and therapy. The board later extended the agreement to five years and made Farmer’s compliance a condition of retaining his medical licence.

Farmer sued Baptist Health Medical Group and Baptist Heath Madisonville in 2021, alleging breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective business advantage.

According to the lawsuit, the hospital violated its fitness for duty and drug testing policy by not immediately notifying Farmer of the complaint nor immediately testing him to prove whether or not there was a factual basis for the allegation.

Repercussions from the unproven complaint damaged his personal and professional reputation, severely limited his job prospects and earning potential, the suit alleged.

Baptist Health spokeswoman Rebecca Towles Brown said Baptist Health was exploring its legal options after the jury’s decision.

“We strongly disagree with the allegations made against Baptist Health and are disappointed by the verdict. We are evaluating our post-verdict options, as we believe the facts as they occurred do not support the verdict.”

At trial, co-workers, including Farmer’s attending physicians, testified he was not impaired on the date in question, DeLaney said.

A key fact highlighted is that Farmer has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“He has ADHD, so he’s normally a twitchy person,” she said. “There was lots of testimony about how he moves a lot and that he’s fidgety and doesn’t stand still.

“The two attending doctors who were supervising him at clinic that afternoon both said he was not impaired; he was his usual self. They told the residency director that right after the incident. They both testified they thought that would be the end of the matter.”

Farmer is not alone in fighting back against allegations by hospitals regarding conduct associated with impairment.

In 2020, an obstetrician/gynaecologist accused of being under the influence while working won $4.75m in fraud and defamation damages against St Vincent Carmel Hospital and St Vincent Carmel Medical Group for its treatment after an impairment complaint by a nurse.

 

Medscape article – Doc Accused of Impairment Wins $3.7M for Unproven Complaint (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Doctors more neurotic than patients, finds Australian research

 

How physicians can cope with burnout

 

Exhausted medical staff as dangerous on roads as drunk drivers

 

Critical shortage of ADHD medication in US and demand rises

 

 

 

 

 

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