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UnitedHealth ordered to pay $24 million for doctor's negligence
Two UnitedHealth Group Inc. units must pay $24 million in damages for failing to properly monitor a doctor who gave two colonoscopy patients hepatitis C by employing substandard medical practices, a Nevada jury ruled.
Jurors in state court in Las Vegas deliberated about five hours over two days before finding officials of Health Plan of Nevada and Sierra Health Services were negligent in their oversight of Dipak Desai. The former gastroenterologist has been blamed for infecting patients with hepatitis C by reusing vials of the anesthetic Propofol and failing to sterilize equipment.
The panel ordered the two UnitedHealth units to pay $15 million in compensatory damages to Bonnie Brunson and her husband and $9 million to Helen Meyer. The two women contend they got hepatitis during colonoscopy procedures at Desai’s clinic. Their lawyers said earlier in the case they may ask the jury to award more than $1 billion in punitive damages.
The verdict reflects “what’s wrong with insurance companies in the U.S.” Robert Eglet, Brunson’s lawyer, said in an interview after the verdict was announced. “They put profit before patient safety.”
The trial is the first against units of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth over the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak. Nevada officials were forced to notify 50,000 patients they may have contracted the potentially fatal blood disease from Desai’s actions.
UnitedHealth officials said the verdict “sets a dangerous precedent” because it holds insurers responsible for individual doctors’ misdeeds.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by this verdict given the volumes of essential evidence the jury was blocked from hearing during this trial,” Tyler Mason, a UnitedHealth spokesman, said in a statement.
Health Plan of Nevada officials said on a website created to provide information about the trial that Brunson’s and Meyer’s cases were “driven only by attorney greed.”