Phoebe lawsuits dismissed from state court - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe lawsuits dismissed from state court

June 27, 2005

Albany--  A lawsuit accusing Phoebe Putney Hospital of overcharging uninsured patients has been dropped but hospital critics say the fight is far from over. Superior Court Judge John Harvey dismissed two lawsuits that pursued class action litigation against Phoebe. This is after those cases were dismissed in federal court back in April. The hospital considers this good news but some say there's still another battle.

In a packed lobby, Phoebe Health System executives are all smiles. "We are ecstatic. We are thrilled," says hospital attorney Rick Langley. Monday they heard the decision that they've been waiting for, the dismissal of lawsuits that charged the hospital with what they say are false accusations. "The dismissal of the Phoebe lawsuits in the Superior Court today marks the first case heard by a state court judge that addressed the merits of the case," says Langley.

The lawsuits accused Phoebe of overcharging uninsured patients and using aggressive means to collect payments. "We have always maintained that these cases are baseless and misdirected," says Board Chairman Lem Griffin. Dr. John Bagnato disagrees.

"We know they're charging the uninsured patients the highest amounts of anybody and they say they can't help it and that's the way it works. Well, you can charge them and discount them but they don't do that routinely," says Bagnato. Bagnato's investigations into Phoebe prompted him to contact Mississippi lawyer Richard Scruggs.

"These rulings in favor of Phoebe come despite the fact that Dr. Bagnato took these cases to one of the richest and most famous trial lawyers of all times," says Griffin. Those cases were thrown out by a federal judge. Bagnato says he wasn't surprised then and he isn't with Monday's decision in Superior Court.

"It's really not surprising again. These cases are very political," says Bagnato. What he feels it comes down to is litigation and legal technicalities and that the only remedy to the whole problem will be reform. "What I hope happens is that the board is accountable to the people and that Mr. Wernick decides that the time for him to go is come. I think he should resign," says Bagnato.

Regardless of whether it's Phoebe itself or it's president, the hospital is thankful for Monday's announcement. "At this moment there are no class action lawsuits, federal or state pending against this hospital. Every single one of them has been dismissed," says Langley.

Many feel that it's not the end to the hospital's battles.

Dr. John Bagnato says that he's not surprised that the cases were dismissed in both federal and state courts. He says those decisions will be appealed and it will be up to the Supreme Court in Georgia. Phoebe Health Systems was one of 50 not-for-profit hospital systems named in lawsuits filed by Mississippi lawyer Richard Scruggs. 38 of those lawsuits have been dismissed in federal courts.

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