Blogs on Poliner

by Ted Frank on September 2, 2004

The medical blogs are naturally talking about the Poliner litigation, where a doctor who had privileges suspended for allegations of improper care sued everyone involved in the peer review decision and eventually got a jury verdict of $366 million (Aug. 30). Dr. Rangel (Sep. 1) takes an interesting and nuanced view based in part on personal experience with the plaintiff; db’s MedRants blog (Aug. 31) calls for a “barf bag”; Bard-Parker (Aug. 31) suggests that one solution may be more systematic use of outside review, but notes that fear of litigation may not make that reform feasible.

Commenters are focused mostly on the liability decision, but one thing that immediately strikes the eye is the complete divorce from reality of the damages figure of $366 million. Even if one assumes that Poliner’s career was completely ruined notwithstanding a different peer review’s exoneration and throws in a million dollars for psychic injury, the figure is off by at least a factor of ten; if one more realistically limits damages to the few months he was out of practice, at least a factor of 100; if one limits damages to the month between the initial suspension and the privileged decision of the peer review committee, even more. Usually the remedy for excessive damages is “remittitur,” a fancy Latin word for the process where the judge makes up his or her own damages figure and tells the plaintiff to agree to that reduced figure or a motion for a new trial will be granted. But if a jury’s damages determination was the irrational product of passion, why presume (and, often, essentially assume) that the liability decision was reasoned?