Case Law: Khajavi v. Feather River Anesthesia Medical Group – Whistleblower Protection for Doctors

Attorney Case Law Update: Khajavi v. Feather River Anesthesia Medical Group – California Court of Appeal. Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who focuses his practice on healthcare whistleblowers, wage and hour issues, sexual harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. Contact the firm for a free consultation.

Facts of the Case:

While prepping a patient for anesthesia, Dr. Khajavi noticed that the patient had an irregular heartbeat which increases the risk of stroke to a patient during and after surgery. Dr. Khajavi asked the surgeon about the patient’s irregular heartbeat and the surgeon told him that it was nothing new and the patient was being treated for it. Relying on this, Dr. Khajavi proceeded with administering the sedative.

Before the surgery began, Dr. Khajavi spoke with the patient’s regular physician, who informed him that the patient had not been treated for an irregular heartbeat and directed Dr. Khajavi to cancel the surgery.

Dr. Khajavi and the surgeon had a heated argument as the surgeon wanted to proceed with the surgery and Dr. Khajavi did not was to proceed with the surgery. Dr. Khajavi refused to attend the patient during surgery as it was not in the best interest of the patient to proceed with the surgery. The surgery was canceled as there was no other anesthesiologist to monitor the patient.

Four days following the incident, Dr. Khajavi was terminated. Shareholders told Dr. Khajavi that the incident was one of the main reasons for his termination. Dr. Khajavi filed a lawsuit asserting that the hospital, had violated Business & Professions Code § 2056 which protects doctors from retaliation for advocating for medically appropriate care.

The Main Issue for Employment Lawyers & Doctors

Business and Professional Code § 2056 provides protection against retaliation for physicians who advocate for medically appropriate healthcare for their patients.

The Court had to decide whether Business and Professional Code § 2056 can be applied to a disagreement between two physicians regarding how to medically treat a patient, or if § 2056 only applies to disputes between physicians and third party or healthcare payors.

In its motion for nonsuit, the hospital argued that Business and Professional Code § 2056 only applies to retaliation in disputes between doctors and third-party payors, and basically Dr. Khajavi’s argument was not with the party responsible for paying for the treatment, but rather was just an “internal beef” between two doctors.

The Court’s Holding – Doctors Are Protected

The Court disagreed with the hospital’s interpretation of the code and stated that § 2056 does not limit its protection to disputes between physicians and healthcare or third party payors. The Court explained that under § 2056, it is the state’s public policy two encourage two types of physician advocacy for medically appropriate health care. First, a physician can appeal from a payor’s decision to deny payment. Second, a physician can protest a decision, policy, or practice that the physician reasonably believes impairs his or her ability to provide medically appropriate health care.

Basically, under § 2056, a physician has a broad right to object to his or her employer’s decision, policy, or practice if the physician reasonably believes that to not object and proceed would hurt his ability to provide the proper and appropriate medical care to a patient. If an employer of a physician terminates a physician because he or she has enacted this broad right, then that employer has violated public policy of the state.

The Court’s decision here is a good result for doctors as it ensures that doctors can provide honest and proper medical care to their patients without fear of losing their job. If you feel like you are in a situation that is concerning, contact an employment attorney as soon as possible.

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