A dispute stemming from allegations that Abington Memorial Hospital withheld documents that could have significantly increased the value of a nearly $20 million settlement should be heard in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the front-line appeals court ruled Sept. 7 that the case West v. Abington Memorial Hospital should be transferred from Philadelphia to the neighboring county, where the hospital is located. The ruling affirmed a decision by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Denis Cohen.
The Superior Court’s ruling relied heavily on Cohen’s February decision.
Although the plaintiffs had contended that case should stay in Philadelphia because, among other things, the legal work that led to the underlying $19 million settlement occurred in Philadelphia, Cohen dismissed that argument, saying the settlement was executed in Montgomery County.
“The actual settlement—which plaintiffs based their fraud claim on—took place in Montgomery County at the courthouse following the close of plaintiff’s case in chief,” Cohen said. “Further, the 2006 document originated in Montgomery County and at some point was turned over to counsel from the hospital in Montgomery County. As such, considering that these relevant events crucial to proving plaintiffs’ claim did not take place in Philadelphia then Philadelphia is not a proper venue.”
Kline & Specter attorney Shanin Specter, who is representing the plaintiffs, said in an emailed statement that he plans to appeal the ruling.
“The Superior Court doesn’t address the basic point that Abington Hospital regularly provides health care services in Philadelphia and generates millions of dollars in revenue through employees working in Philadelphia,” Specter said. “If permitted to stand, Pennsylvania will sink to a new standard, where large businesses can only be sued in the place they do the most business, which plainly is not the law.”
Potomac Law Group PLLC attorney Susan Metcalfe, who is representing Abington, said in an emailed statement, “we believe the trial court and Superior Court reached the correct decision and we will continue to defend against these meritless claims.”
West stems from claims that the hospital failed to turn over an internal policy that would have significantly undercut the hospital’s main defense in a previous birth-injury lawsuit that resulted in a $19 million settlement in 2013.
According to attorneys, West posed unique claims that could lead attorneys with similar suits to review their case files.
The case stems back to February 2007 when Amy West was pregnant with Juliana West. According to court filings, Amy West went to Abington Hospital to deliver Juliana West, and, during the delivery, she was given Pitocin, a hormone that is meant to induce labor by causing uterine contractions. However, according to court filings, the hormone caused a uterine rupture during the delivery, and Juliana West was born with severe brain damage.
The Wests sued Abington in 2008, and the plaintiffs made a discovery request for all policies, procedures and guidelines related to Pitocin usage. The hospital, according to the plaintiffs, turned over a policy that was issued in 2004, which indicated there was no risk of serious complications from Pitocin.
The case went to trial in 2013, and, according to the Wests, Abington relied on that policy for its main defense, which was that the severe contractions Amy West experienced were not risk factors for uterine rupture in an unscarred uterus. After the plaintiffs rested their case, the parties agreed to a $19 million settlement.
However, according to the Wests, two years later, in a separate Pitocin-related birth injury lawsuit that Kline & Specter attorneys were pursuing against Abington, the hospital produced an updated internal Pitocin-related policy that had allegedly been in place at the time of West’s birth injury.
The plaintiffs filed a new case on behalf of West alleging that the 2006 policy, which had replaced the 2004 policy, had not been turned over during discovery of the Wests’ initial case. The newer policy, according to the plaintiffs, had “strongly” advised doctors not to use Pitocin if the patient began having problems with her contractions, and further warned that using the hormone could lead to catastrophic brain injury.
As part of its negligence and fraudulent inducement claims, the plaintiffs alleged that, at the time of the initial discovery request, the hospital’s risk manager had been concerned that the records in the obstetrics and gynecology department were not well organized, and she was worried not all the responsive discovery documents had been turned over.
(Copies of the 19-page opinion in West v. Abington Memorial Hospital, PICS No. 18-1116, are available at http://at.law.com/PICS.)