A District Court judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by patients of a fired oncologist against St. Peter’s Health in Helena.
The judge said he lacked the jurisdiction to resolve the dispute at this time, and the claims must first be filed with the Montana Medical Legal Panel.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, who are patients of Dr. Thomas Weiner, said he received Montana 1st District Court Judge Michael Menahan’s Feb. 1 decision that the case against St. Peter’s Health and its chief executive officer, Wade Johnson, would be dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could file again.
The judge is simply telling the plaintiffs to go through the legal panel first, which is not unusual, their attorney, John Doubek, said.
“I do not think that was the intent of the statutes, but the wording is both vague and broad,” Doubek said. “I really do not think that the hospital and its medical malpractice insurer wants to have hundreds of cases go to the panel, which only handles about 165 total in one year.”
St. Peter’s said it was pleased with the judge’s decision, and stood by an earlier response in which it said it “felt strongly about the steps we’re taking to protect the safety of patients. This matter is now pending litigation and as such, we are not able to provide comment specific to legal proceedings.”
The Montana Medical Legal Panel was created to prevent court actions against health care providers and their employees for professional liability in situations where the facts do not show a reasonable inference of malpractice. Doubek said he plans to file the case with the panel soon.
On Dec. 10, Weiner filed another suit against St. Peter’s Health, demanding a jury trial and saying suspending his clinical privileges violated due process, was done without good cause and damaged his reputation. Johnson has said Weiner was removed after the hospital learned that he had been harming patients for years, and that the investigation was continuing.
Weiner's lawsuit against the hospital is still pending.
The class-action suit dismissed this week was filed Nov. 13 by Tonya Hauck and others after Weiner had been removed from the hospital. Hauck and the other plaintiffs alleged that St. Peter’s Health failed to notify them when it removed Weiner and did not assign other doctors to care for them.
They said his removal caused canceled appointments, stress, anxiety and depression, among other damages. Weiner is not a party in this suit. No punitive damages are sought, but the plaintiffs reserved the right to seek punitive damages should the "requisite elements be proven through the course of discovery."
"At the heart of each of Hauck's claims is her allegation St. Peter's Health violated acceptable standards of health care by dismissing Dr. Weiner and by failing to reasonably accommodate his patients," Menahan wrote. "These claims, both in contract and tort, are the purview of the Montana Medical Legal Panel as they fall under the statutory definition of medical malpractice claims."