Phoebe rejoices in court victory - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe rejoices in court victory

October 18, 2006

 Albany -- A major legal victory for Phoebe Putney Hospital, as the Georgia Supreme Court brings to an end nearly two years of class action lawsuits. The Supreme Court refused to review an appeal, essentially closing lawsuits contending that Phoebe overcharged uninsured patients.

Phoebe Putney Hospital was one of more than 50 not for profit hospitals targeted by Mississippi lawyer Richard Scruggs in May 2004, for overcharging uninsured patients. Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to review a petition to move those lawsuits to state court.

Those cases had already been dismissed in federal and state courts, so this decision ends the legal fight. Phoebe President and CEO Joel Wernick said, "We obviously feel vindicated. All 3,800 of the folks who provide care at Phoebe Putney are pleased to hear this."

Wernick said the lawsuits were filed by attorneys targeting millions of dollars not for profit hospitals have in reserves. Wernick said the biggest tragedy was how the hospital's reputation was stained. "Very offended by many of the insituations that have been made by people who really had motives much different that the mission of this institution."

Attorney Ralph Scoccimaro, who filed the appeal, said he was suprised by the Court's decision.  "To basically tell us if you want some relief, you are going to have to go to the legislature."

Wernick said Phoebe spent millions of dollars hiring lawyers and private detectives to fight the lawsuits-- money that could have gone to health programs. "Wasted on a frivilous lawsuit. It's a terrible waste of the community resources."

But Scoccimaro said their lawsuits forced Phoebe to change their collection methods. "That didn't come about until after the lawsuits were filed, so I feel some satisfaction."

Charles Rehberg's counter suit against Phoebe Putney is still awaiting trial. One of the authors of the Phoebe Factoids, Rehberg is suing Phoebe, claiming two of their private detectives threatened him and his family. 

Rehberg's lawsuit will likely be heard in about six months.

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