Remember Charles Cullen? The Angel of Death nurse who killed at least 29 patients in various hospitals throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania? He admitted sneaking into the patients’ rooms at night and injecting them with overdoses of medications – usually either insulin, digoxin, or epinephrine.
Many law firms sued Cullen and the hospitals at which he worked for the patient deaths and won substantial judgments. But several of the law firms took things a little too far.
Charles Cullen obviously didn’t kill every patient that he cared for during his 16 year career. But some law firms sued the hospitals that Cullen worked at solely because Cullen cared for patients who later died. Their lawsuits alleged that Cullen killed patients even though there was a “complete lack of evidence” to support those claims. The cases were dismissed by the trial judge and the dismissals were affirmed on appeal. During depositions in the cases, family members admitted that they had no evidence linking Cullen to the death of the patients, only a “hunch” that the nurse “might” have been responsible.
Now one of the hospitals is suing the law firms for filing these frivolous cases.
St. Luke’s Hospital in Lehigh Valley, PA is suing Cohen & Feeley in Bethlehem, PA and John R Vivian of Easton, PA for proceeding with cases that the attorneys knew were “baseless and lacking in evidence.” In addition, St. Luke’s sued the medical expert who certified the cases, Dr. John J. Shane, alleging that he used a “boilerplate” certificate of merit to allow the cases to proceed and did not even review the medical records of the victims before certifying the cases. Dr. Shane has been in trouble with the law before. In 2008, he was indicted by the Department of Justice for conspiracy and wire fraud (.pdf file) when he and two attorneys allegedly forged the will of a deceased person in an attempt to become beneficiaries of a multimillion dollar estate. Sounds like St. Luke’s Hospital needs to add a cause of action for “negligent hiring” to its lawsuit against the law firms.
The hospital seeks more than $500,000 in legal fees that it paid to defend the baseless lawsuits in addition to punitive damages.
A “loser pays” system in this country would probably have prevented the lawsuits from even being filed. Instead, now the hospital has to spend even more money on attorneys’ fees and file a counterclaim in order to obtain justice.
The hospital should get at least $30 million for noneconomic damages in this case. Maybe more. After all, who can put a value on how much distress the hospital administrators and the hospital staff went through based on the unprofessional actions of these attorneys?