Cancer surgeon sues Kaiser medical group for firing and defaming him; awarded $1.75 million before confidential settlement. Orange County.

Summary

Cancer surgeon obtains confidential settlement from SCPMG after $1.75 million verdict reached by jury.

The Case

  • Case Name: Wascher v. Southern California Permanente Group; Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
  • Court and Case Number: Orange County / 00523323
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, June 18, 2015
  • Date of Settlement: Friday, 19 June 2015
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
  • Type of Action: Defamation, Employment, Wrongful Termination
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Craig L. Griffin
  • Plaintiffs:
    Robert Wascher, M.D., 53
  • Defendants:
    Southern California Permanente Medical Group
    Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.
    Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,750,000 for retaliation and defamation. Case resolved confidentially before punitive damages phase.
  • Settlement Amount: Confidential
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $1,750,000.00 against Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

  • Economic Damages:

    None.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $1,750,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    Malice was found by the jury, but the case resolved for a confidential amount before the punitive damages phase.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 days.
  • Jury Polls: 9-3 Retaliation; 10-2 and 11-1 Defamation
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Confidential settlement reached post-verdict in Phase I of the trial.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Rager Law Firm by Jeffrey A. Rager, Torrance.

    Charles T. Mathews & Associates by Charles T. Mathews, Arcadia.

     

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Davis Wright Tremaine by Portia R. Moore, Seattle, WA. (Representing Southern California Permanente Medical Group.)

    Davis Wright Tremaine by John P. LeCrone and Giancarlo Urey, Los Angeles. (Representing Southern California Permanente Medical Group.)

    Cole Pedroza by Joshua Traver, San Marino. (Representing Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Anthony Reading, Ph.D., psychology, Beverly Hills.

    Martin Makary, M.D., surgery, Baltimore, MD.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Marc Cohen, M.D., psychiatry, Los Angeles.

    Joshua Ellenhorn, M.D., surgical oncology, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff doctor was a surgical oncologist who worked for defendant Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG) from January 19, 2009 to July 31, 2011.

    Dr. Wascher raised 3 primary patient care concerns with his employer: (1) There was a lack of timely access to surgery for cancer patients; (2) general surgeons were doing complex cancer cases they were not qualified to perform; (3) there was no comprehensive cancer care program at Kaiser Orange County. In response to his complaints, Dr. Wascher was defamed and was not allowed to become a partner.

    Per defense counsel: Dr. Wascher was a surgical oncologist hired into the General Surgery Department in Orange County.  While employed, he complained about timely operating room access for his complex cancer surgeries and that he should be assigned certain cancer surgeries that other non-fellowship trained surgeons were performing.  Dr. Wascher's employment was terminated after it was determined he did not have the support to become a partner.  Prior to his termination, negative comments were made by partner physicians about Dr. Wascher in the course of a Human Resources investigation.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendants retaliated against him for his patient advocacy and defamed him.

    Per defense counsel, plaintiff's contentions also included: That plaintiff was fraudulently induced to move to California to take the job with SCPMG with certain promises, including but not limited to the creation of a Center of Excellence for cancer treatment and that he would be performing predominately complex cancer surgeries with fewer general surgery cases.  That SCPMG, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals constituted a single employer or integrated enterprise. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That Dr. Wascher did not have the support of physician partners in General Surgery to make partner because he was not a good fit for the surgery department. That plaintiff’s complaints were not about patient care, but were demands to benefit his particular practice preferences. That comments made about Dr. Wascher were conditionally-privileged, as part of a confidential Human Resources investigation, and were stated as opinions.

    Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals contended that neither entity employed plaintiff or had any involvement in the actions that gave rise to the lawsuit. Defendants contended that they are separate legal entities and did not constitute the single employer of plaintiff.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    None.

  • Emotional Distress.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: None - Emotional Distress only.

Additional Notes

Defendant offered $290,000. Plaintiff's final demand was $1.1 million. Plaintiff had no economic damages.

 Per defense counsel: The verdict was for retaliation under Health & Safety Code Section 1278.5 and two counts of defamation; no liability was found under Labor Code Section 970, Business & Professions Code Section 2056 or common law wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. 

No liability was found against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. or Kaiser Foundation Hospitals;  jury found neither entity to be a single employer with SCPMG.

The last settlement demand received from plaintiff was his Offer of Compromise in the amount of $2.9 million.  No “demand” of $1.1 million was ever made or  communicated by plaintiff to defendants.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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