Houston Heart Surgeon Wins Millions in Defamation Claim

A Harris County jury has awarded $6.4 million in damages to a Houston cardiothoracic surgeon whom TMA supported in his years-long battle with Memorial Hermann Health System over a defamation claim.

Miguel Gomez, MD, filed suit after he left Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in 2012. Dr. Gomez claimed that after he began planning a move to Houston Methodist West Hospital, Memorial Hermann began a "whisper campaign" to discredit him as a surgeon, which included "selective and improper dissemination" of manipulated data. He claimed the hospital attempted to create an image that patients were more likely to die in his care. It was all part of an effort to undermine his surgical business as he prepared to move to a competing hospital, Dr. Gomez claimed.

The jury's decision last Wednesday found Memorial Hermann had defamed Dr. Gomez and had conspired with others to "restrain trade" by causing referring physicians to stop referring cardiovascular and thoracic surgery patients to him. 

As part of his suit, Dr. Gomez attempted to compel Memorial Hermann to release what the hospital said were confidential peer review documents, which he believed would provide evidence of the smear campaign. When the fight over the peer review documents reached the Supreme Court of Texas, Dr. Gomez contacted TMA and its Committee on Patient-Physician Advocacy for help. TMA submitted a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Dr. Gomez's case, which argued for an exception in the confidentiality of peer review records. The Supreme Court's 2015 decision resulted in the release of most of the records Dr. Gomez sought. After the high court's decision, Dr. Gomez said when he needed TMA "at my most difficult period in my medical career, they came in and did the right thing."

After Wednesday's jury verdict, Memorial Hermann hospital officials said they would evaluate whether to appeal, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Action, April 3, 2017