Doctor Wins $140K After False Misconduct Accusation

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Paul H. Deutsch, M.D. v. Backus Corporation d/b/a The William W. Backus Hospital: A Norwich doctor was awarded $139,857 after a Hartford jury determined that a Norwich hospital acted in bad faith when it suspended the doctor for professional misconduct based on false information.

For several years starting in 2005, Dr. Paul H. Deutsch of Norwich faced accusations that he had improperly accessed patients' medical records online using another doctor's password and then forwarded those records to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, along with an anonymous complaint. His motive, Backus Hospital claimed, was to draw attention to allegedly improper care some patients were receiving from Backus Hospital doctors.

Deutsch was suspended for 31 days in 2005 following an internal investigation, and the hospital reported him to the state licensing board and to local and federal law enforcement authorities for computer crimes and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations. He adamantly denied the charges and appealed his suspension.

In 2008, following multiple appeals, Backus Hospital's board of trustees cleared Deutsch of any wrongdoing, but the hospital refused to make a public announcement clearing his name. Deutsch filed his bad faith breach of contract lawsuit in 2010, claiming the hospital pursued its disciplinary action against him despite never having evidence he committed wrongdoing.

The hospital's actions "sullied the reputation of a highly regarded primary-care doctor whose reputation was impeccable," said attorney Mary Alice Moore Leonhardt of Moore Leonhardt & Associates in Hartford. "Dr. Deutsch became a pariah among the other doctors. It was a very unfortunate thing that was foisted upon him."

Moore Leonhardt's cocounsel was Jacques Parenteau of Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau in New London. Judge Kevin Dubay presided over the case, which was on the complex litigation docket in Hartford Superior Court.

Deutsch lost friends, colleagues and referral business during the eight years he spent fighting the accusations and going through the trial, Moore Leonhardt said. Deutsch is a primary-care physician with a private practice in Norwich and has been a medical staff member at Backus Hospital for 28 years.

The Hartford jury returned a unanimous verdict of nearly $140,000 after one hour of deliberations on Nov. 22. The jury asked Dubay if it could award an additional $1 million to Deutsch for his estimated loss of income and attorney fees for the trial and for defending himself in the hospital proceedings. Dubay declined that request.

For Backus Hospital, Hugh Murray III of Murtha Cullina's Hartford office served as lead counsel. He received support from Ropes & Gray attorneys in Boston. No one from the defendant's legal team responded to requests for comments.

Backus Hospital's accusations were based on videotape from a security camera that the hospital claimed showed Deutsch in the records room at the same time that the patients' imaging reports had been accessed. In 2005, Deutsch asked hospital officials to see the video of him accessing the records, but he wasn't shown the video until after the hospital's internal investigation and initial suspension, his lawyers said.

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