STEPHEN HARRIS, M.D. v. BRADLEY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL AND HEALTH CENTER, INC., SC 18944

Judicial District of New Britain

 

Hospitals; Whether Defendant was Immune from Monetary Liability Under the Federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act; Whether Appellate Attorney's Fees are Recoverable as Common Law Punitive Damages; Whether Awards of Punitive Damages and Offer of Compromise Interest Violated Defendant's Right to Due Process. The plaintiff surgeon, whose medical staff privileges had been summarily suspended by the defendant hospital, brought this action, claiming breach of contract and tortious interference with business expectancies. The jury found the defendant liable and awarded monetary damages. Subsequently, the trial court overturned the verdict and denied the plaintiff's motion for punitive damages. On the plaintiff's appeal, the Supreme Court reinstated the verdict. In doing so, it declined to review the defendant's alternate ground for affirming the judgment, namely, that the plaintiff failed to rebut the statutory presumption that the defendant was immune from monetary liability under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 (HCQIA). The court found that the claim was unpreserved because the defendant had not challenged on appeal the jury instructions pertaining to that special defense and the corresponding jury interrogatory. In addition, the court reversed the judgment as to the denial of punitive damages, finding that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the defendant acted recklessly with regard to the plaintiff's rights. On remand, the trial court awarded nearly $613,000 in common law punitive damages, representing the attorney's fees and costs of the litigation. The award included $116,000 for appellate attorney's fees. The trial court also awarded offer of compromise interest under General Statutes 52-192a. The defendant appeals, claiming, as to the underlying trial on the merits, that it was entitled, as a matter of law, to immunity from liability under HCQIA and, further, that the trial court improperly failed to instruct the jury as to the HCQIA presumption of immunity. The defendant also claims that the trial court's award of punitive damages violated its due process rights because the court did not apply the guideposts set out in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 575 (1996). The defendant further contends that, based on this court's decision in O'Leary v. Industrial Park Corp., 211 Conn. 648 (1989), appellate attorney's fees are not recoverable as common law punitive damages. In addition, the defendant argues that the mandatory imposition of punitive interest pursuant to 52-192a violated its due process rights because it was not afforded a hearing regarding whether its conduct in rejecting the offer of compromise was reprehensible. The plaintiff contends that the defendant's HCQIA claims are not reviewable because they were not properly raised in the previous appeal to the Supreme Court.