An Ogden physician was awarded $150,000 after a 2nd District Court jury determined his rights to perform elective open-heart surgery were unfairly revoked in 1983 by McKay-Dee Hospital.
The panel deliberated for almost five hours Friday before deciding hospital officials had barred Dr. J. Richard Rees from conducting the procedures even though he never voluntarily gave up his privileges or received a hearing.Family members wept following the verdict, and Rees said he was pleased but not surprised.
Gary Pehrson, vice president of the northern region of Intermountain Health Care Inc., which owns McKay-Dee Hospital, would not comment on the verdict, but he said the hospital will review its legal options.
The four-day trial had pitted hospital colleagues against each other, with Rees' skills as an elective heart surgeon thoroughly debated.
"This was not a good doc, bad doc case . . . it was a very narrow issue. Did he give up his privileges or not?" said Rees' attorney, Ronald Nehring, after the verdict.
Rees, who had staff privileges at the hospital since May 1971, filed suit against McKay-Dee in September 1983, charging that the revocation of his privileges caused him mental anguish and damaged his reputation.
His lawsuit sought reinstatement of the privileges and compensation for lost wages.
A business professor testified Wednesday that Rees had lost about $1 million in salary and bank interest in the eight years he could not perform the surgery. Nehring had asked in closing arguments for about $290,000 in compensation.
Rees was given an ultimatum in February 1983 to either voluntarily relinquish his privileges to perform elective heart surgery or have them suspended by the hospital.
When he did not voluntarily relinquish the rights or request a due process hearing within two months, the hospital assumed he had acquiesced and given up his privileges, Pehrson testified.
Hospital employees testified they were concerned about an audit that showed 20 of 63 elective-surgery heart patients operated on by Rees between 1976 and 1981 died within a month after surgery.
Hospital officials felt pressure to act in Rees' case because of the high mortality rate, the hospital's attorney, Charles Dahlquist, said in closing arguments.
"Their action was in good faith," he said. "They did what they felt was right."
Nehring said Friday that many of the patients were high-risk, but he declined to elaborate on the claim because of a possible appeal by the hospital.