Remember the Ford Pinto scandal in the 1970s, when people died because Ford executives knew the car’s fuel tank was deadly, yet after a cost-benefit analysis decided it was cheaper to pay out settlements than to fix the millions of Pintos on the road?
It would have cost $11 per car, or $137 million versus the $49.5 million to pay for the deaths. Fixing the subcompact car would have meant 180 fewer deaths, Ford estimated.
The key point: They knew.
That’s the same reason jurors voted to award a total of $524 million recently to Bonnie Brunson and her husband Carl, and Helen Meyer. Bonnie Brunson and Meyer both contracted hepatitis C following colonoscopies at one of Dr. Dipak Desai’s endoscopy clinics.
Health Plan of Nevada sent them there even knowing there had been complaints about Desai’s operations.
Again, they knew.
Las Vegas attorneys Will Kemp and Robert Eglet proved they knew, and jurors responded with the moral outrage that was demonstrated in the Ford Pinto cases.
“The theme here is: Hire good doctors and pay them a fair rate,” Kemp said Thursday.
Health Plan of Nevada, a major insurer in Nevada, dumped Desai in 1992 and contracted with Dr. Joseph Fayad. But despite the safety issues brought to HPN by Dr. Charles Cohan, a member of Fayad’s group, HPN rehired Desai in 1999 because he would perform procedures cheaper. To do that, he had to perform them faster.
Kemp said there was evidence that Desai was doing colonoscopies in nine minutes.
Cohen testified he had gone to HPN and told officials there about Desai’s failure to detect cancerous tumors, a failure which resulted in two deaths. Desai hasn’t gone to trial yet on his criminal charges because there have been delays caused by his medical issues.
There are dueling websites for anyone who wants to read more details.
HPN’s website is www.endoscopyfacts.com.
Kemp and Eglet’s website is www.endoscopytrialfacts.com.
It contains testimony that obviously persuaded the jurors to award the Brunsons and Meyer $24 million in compensatory damages and then pile on punitive damages of $500 million last week.
The hepatitis outbreak in Las Vegas became public in February 2000 when the Southern Nevada Health District announced since 2004 it had seen a pattern of hepatitis C cases tied to Desai’s clinics. In the largest public warning in the United States, more than 60,000 people were advised they should be tested for hepatitis B and C and HIV.
HPN will appeal the $524 million award by arguing that District Judge Timothy Williams was wrong to keep out certain evidence.
HPN wanted to tell jurors about Desai’s criminal case and the earlier Teva Pharmaceutical Industries case, where infected patients, also represented by Kemp and Eglet, won a jury verdict of $182 million. Teva manufactured Propofol, an anesthetic used during endoscopic procedures.
In that case, Kemp argued that Teva should have known its vials were so large they tempted doctors to use them on more than one patient by reusing syringes. A medical journal and the Centers for Disease Control had warned that larger anesthesia vials created a health risk.
Teva’s “we didn’t know” defense was discounted by three juries.
Teva should have known.
The $524 million award against Health Plan of Nevada is the largest award in Nevada and so far this year, it’s the largest in the United States, according to Bloomberg’s research.
But the year is young. Perhaps there are other companies out there who knew of wrongdoing and did nothing to correct it. Just like HPN and Ford.
The right result of this case will be if, in the future, insurance companies decide to pay more attention to which doctors they hire for their plans and which ones they don’t.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.