Jury orders medical groups to pay almost $2 million in damages

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Superior Court jury has ordered the state's largest nonprofit hospital to pay almost $2 million in damages to two doctors who filed an antitrust suit.

The jury ruled that the Sisters of Providence in Washington, Providence Alaska Medical Center, the Providence Anchorage Anesthesia Medical Group and the Alaska Pain Management Clinic violated Alaska statutes and were liable for unreasonable restraint of trade.

Leon Chandler Jr. and Michael Borrello are the two anesthesiologists who sued the Providence medical groups. They said Providence's actions prevented patients from getting pain management treatment they needed.

The lawsuit focused on an exclusive contract that Providence Alaska Medical Center signed with Providence Anchorage Anesthesia Medical Group in 1992. The contract allowed the medical group's physicians to provide anesthesia services, and later pain management, at the hospital. Neither Chandler nor Borrello was part of that contract.

Dr. James Laidler, a former pain doctor with Providence's anesthesia group, testified in a deposition that his medical group colleagues wanted to eliminate competition from other pain doctors.

''At numerous times, they told me that their intention was to put Dr. Chandler out of business,'' he said.

Providence claimed repeatedly that the exclusive contract was not intended to reduce or limit Chandler's practice. But the jury decided that the defendants did form an agreement with the intent to harm or restrain competition from the A.A. Pain Clinic.

Judge Rene Gonzalez issued the final judgment, listing more than $1.8 million in damages. Almost $1.4 million will go to the A.A. Pain Clinic and the remainder to Borrello. The costs and attorney fees still need to be litigated, said David Shoup, the plaintiffs' attorney.

Employees of Providence listed several advantages of an exclusive contract. Possible benefits included enhancing the relationship between the hospital's administration and the anesthesiologists in the exclusive group, improving patient care and providing anesthesia services without regard to a patient's ability to pay, court documents stated.

Several people testified that the contract resulted in the opposite, harming patient care and turning away patients who weren't as profitable. Chandler said Providence was 'cherry-picking' its patients and sending the unprofitable ones to his business.

Chandler called the verdict appropriate but said he is still concerned about the settlement.

''My biggest fear is it wasn't big enough, because I don't think we'll get their attention,'' he said.

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