Peer Review “Interference” Alleged as Tortious Interference with Contract
Many sham peer review cases are based upon breach of contract in states in which the medical staff bylaws are treated as contracts between the hospital and/or medical staff and the individual physicians. Typically, the cause of actions is based upon some failure to provide the due process as defined in the fair hearing provisions of the bylaws.
Graves v. Kovacs is an Indiana case that may expand the theories of liability based upon breach of contract. Dr. Graves has sued Drs. Kovacs and Ross and Indiana University Health alleging tortious interference by Drs. Kovacs and Ross who allegedly:
“played a role in the revocation of his privileges, by providing false information to peer review committees and improperly reviewing allegations against Dr. Graves.”
The decision is only a procedural decision reversing the grant of judgment on the pleadings to the defendant at the trial court level. However, the theory is interesting.
The state appellate court has allowed this case to proceed on the basis that Drs. Graves and Kovacs tortiously interfered with a contract for the benefit of Dr. Kovacs, and there is no discussion in the case regarding whether the medical staff bylaws actually constitute a contract. Of course, it is early in this case and there is no holding that a contract actually existed, or that the conduct of Drs. Kovacs and Ross tortiously interfered with that contract, but this case obviously has some potential for that.
Of course there are state and HCQIA immunity provisions to be dealt with at a later stage, but Drs. Kovacs and Ross may not be peer review body for purposes of HCQIA and, to the extent the information provided was false, may not be covered by a state peer review immunity statute.