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Tenet Healthcare Corp. has agreed to pay $395 million to settle 769 claims that doctors at its Redding, Calif., hospital performed unnecessary heart surgeries. The massive settlement — which must still be approved by 95 percent of the plaintiffs and a Shasta County judge — will end litigation against the health care giant in connection with the surgeries. Once approved, the settlement money will immediately go into an interest-accruing fund, and plaintiffs can expect to see payouts as early as January, said Luke Ellis of Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen of Orinda, Calif., which represents 186 of the plaintiffs. Ellis noted that the cases were resolved relatively quickly. The questionable surgeries came to light when FBI agents raided Tenet’s Redding Medical Center in October 2002, and many of the lawsuits were filed just last year. “You could spend years litigating these cases,” Ellis said. Since the alleged victims range in age from mid-60s to 90, he said, a protracted legal battle would have meant that many of them would “never get a chance to have [their] day in court.” In a statement, Trevor Fetter, Tenet’s president and chief executive officer, characterized the settlement as “the fair and honorable way to conclude this very sad chapter.” How much money each plaintiff will receive is confidential, and Ellis declined to discuss attorneys fees. The lawyers did not seek class action status, he said, because it’s hard to make personal injury fit into that rubric. “Every injury is different,” said Ellis. “Every injury is complicated.” Since the Redding scandal erupted, Tenet has come under fire for its medical and business practices at other California hospitals. The company has since sold the Redding facility. Along with the plaintiff suits, Tenet was also under investigation by state and federal authorities for its practices in Redding. It settled with government investigators over the summer for $54 million. In addition, plaintiffs lawyers sued a number of physicians in connection with the heart operations. They reached a confidential agreement with cardiologists several months ago, and litigation against four surgeons is slated to begin next summer. Ellis said there are 10 “test” cases against the surgeons. As soon as those play out, the other cases against the surgeons will likely settle. Of the 769 plaintiffs, most are former patients, but 94 are surviving family members who filed wrongful death cases. Ellis said he didn’t expect to have any trouble getting plaintiffs to sign on to the agreement. “I think when people realize what this means to them,” they will agree, he said. “It will change their life in a major way.” The procedures at issue include bypasses, valve replacements and catheterizations. Ellis said they often created additional medical problems and caused depression in those who underwent them. “The heart is a metaphysical part of your body. It’s not just an organ,” he said. The lead plaintiff firm is Redding’s Reiner, Simpson, Timmons & Slaughter. Also representing plaintiffs are Barr & Mudford of Redding, and Moriarty & Leyendecker of Houston, Texas. San Francisco behemoth Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein represents 10 plaintiffs. Ellis said they were also included in the settlement. The case is In re Tenet Healthcare III, J.C.C.P. 4301.

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