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Jury told HMO didn't cause Las Vegas hep C cases

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm •  Published: March 28, 2013

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Executives at Nevada's largest health management organization had no idea about allegations that a clinic owner was cutting corners and endangering patient safety, so it shouldn't be held liable for two members contracting incurable hepatitis C, a defense lawyer told a jury Thursday.

Health Plan of Nevada attorney D. Lee Roberts Jr. instead blamed former endoscopy clinic owner Dipak Desai for a hepatitis outbreak that health officials traced in 2008 to unsafe use of anesthetics and surgical instruments at Desai outpatient clinics in Las Vegas.

Roberts asked jurors to reject claims that Health Plan of Nevada and parent company Sierra Health Services Inc. were responsible for the infections of Helen Meyer and Bonnie Brunson stemming from procedures in 2005 simply because Desai was a credentialed doctor in the company network.

"It is up to you to determine what is ordinary and reasonable care, and what we should have known," Roberts said, standing next to a poster reading, "Plaintiffs have not proven HPN and SHS had actual knowledge that Desai was dangerous."

Defense closings are scheduled to continue Friday.

On Wednesday, jurors heard attorneys Robert Eglet and Will Kemp ask for tens of millions of dollars in compensatory damages for Meyer, Brunson and Brunson's husband, Carl Brunson.

A $350,000 Nevada medical malpractice liability cap for doctors doesn't apply to the insurance companies. The plaintiffs' attorneys are arguing that the companies exhibited bad faith and failed to protect members.

Eglet asked the jury on Wednesday to award the Brunsons $25 million in compensatory damages. Kemp asked for a "fair and reasonable" amount.

Eglet and Kemp plan to seek another $1 billion if the jury finds the firms liable and extends the case to a punitive damages phase, which could take several days of testimony. Defense attorneys would be expected to ask the judge afterward to limit any punitive damages award to three times the amount of a compensatory award.

Roberts on Thursday denied claims by Eglet and Kemp that company executives ignored warning signs, and that financial administrators failed to tell counterparts overseeing medical care that Desai posed a danger.

"The theme here is that the money people knew Dr. Desai was bad and that they told the doctors' side to use him," the defense attorney said. "Where's the evidence of that?"

Desai, who according to testimony used to claim that his clinics could perform endoscopies faster than any other in the nation, is a former member of the state Board of Medical Examiners. He isn't named in the lawsuit.

He has denied wrongdoing, declared bankruptcy and surrendered his medical license. He faces trial in state court next month and federal court in May on separate criminal charges stemming from the hepatitis outbreak.

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