Thursday, February 17, 2011

Med Mal Retaliation as Wrongful Termination - COTW #28

We all know (I hope) that the federal employment discrimination statutes prohibit retaliation against employees who file discrimination complaints. The latest employment law Case of the Week is a Pennsylvania case with a different kind of retaliation claim... medical malpractice ("med mal" to the cool kids) retaliation. In Haun v. Community Health Systems, Inc., 2011 WL 166324 (Pa. Super. Jan. 19, 2011), the Court appears to recognize that med mal retaliation is a cognizable claim in Pennsylvania.

The plaintiff, Mr. Haun, was the CFO of Phoenixville Hospital, and his wife gave birth to twins at the same hospital. Sadly, in the ICU, one twin became disconnected from his IV and suffered severe and irreversible injury to his central nervous system. So, Mr. Haun filed a med mal claim against the hospital. The hospital later terminated him because he was "an adversary of the company and it's too much risk."

Next stop for Mr. Haun? A "wrongful termination in violation of public policy" claim. The hospital filed a preliminary objection because "Haun failed to plead a recognized public policy exception to Pennsylvania's employee at-will doctrine." The trial court overruled the objection, which brings us to the Superior Court decision. The Court held that:
[D]oubt exists as to whether [the hospital's] demurrer to [Mr. Haun's] claim of wrongful termination of at-will employment in violation of public policy should have been sustained. Thus, we resolve that doubt in favor of overruling the preliminary objections.
Hardly a ringing endorsement of med mal retaliation... but they're sayin' there's a chance.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.