Dr. Miguel Gomez is a thoracic and vascular surgeon in Houston. In 2012, he filed suit against Memorial Hermann Hospital System and certain individual physicians, in which he asserted claims for business disparagement, defamation, tortious interference, and improper restraint of trade. The suit arises out of a peer review proceeding against Dr. Gomez, who claimed that the peer review was not about health care, but was instead, utilized to inflict economic harm on him and to retaliate against him for moving his practice to a competing hospital.
Yesterday, he won a $6.4 million jury verdict. This long legal battle has established precedent in Texas, and will not likely end here.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dr. Gomez, ruling that he was entitled to discovery that the Hospital had been seeking to withhold under the peer review privilege. In that appeal, the Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Memorial Hermann to with hold certain documents under the peer review privilege. In particular, the Court held that the majority of the documents Dr. Gomez was seeking were relevant to an anticompetitive action, and thus discoverable. http://www.txcourts.gov/media/981611/140171.pdf
Now, following a jury verdict in his favor, Dr. Gomez is vindicated. Very, very rarely does a case of this type make it to trial. In almost all instances, because the law is strongly in favor of hospitals, the physician rarely gets to “have his day in Court.” The few cases that survive summary judgment are usually settled. Physicians usually lose because they cannot get access to the confidential peer review data needed to prove their case, and because hospital’s frequently are granted immunity based on the peer review privilege.
The jury found that Memorial Hermann acted with malice by making false statements about Dr. Gomez, and in particular, his competency as a surgeon. Dr. Gomez alleged that the false statements were made after he decided to move his practice to Houston Methodist West. Dr. Gomez claimed that the hospital set out to smear his reputation in order to try and keep his patients from moving with him to the new hospital. The Hospital denied those claims and contended that it has an obligation to perform peer review for the purpose of patient safety.
As with Dr. Poliner over a decade ago, Dr. Gomez set out to prove that he had been wronged. Perhaps this verdict will send a message to hospitals that the misuse of peer review will not be tolerated, and despite the law that is strongly in their favor, they can be held accountable.