A Palm Beach County, FL, jury recently returned an $8.5 million malpractice verdict against MDVIP, the nation’s largest concierge medicine practice company, which has 784 affiliated physicians in 41 states. The award is the first against MDVIP, and it is believed to be the first malpractice award against any concierge management firm.
Concierge practices offer patients who pay a membership fee faster access to a physician, more streamlined service, and higher quality care than practices that participate in managed care plans. A concierge practice is meant to appeal to those who can afford to pay extra in order to avoid some of the hassle typically associated with busy practices and third-party insurers.
The attorneys who won the case say it should signal caution for any hospital or health system that might align with a concierge service because the verdict casts doubt on the entire concierge concept. MDVIP was founded in 2000 to offer members such perks as same-day appointments and more personalized care in exchange for a $1,500 annual membership fee.
The jury found MDVIP liable for the negligence of one of its physicians, who was sued for misdiagnosing the cause of a patient’s leg pain, which led to its amputation. The jury also found the firm had falsely advertised its exceptional doctors and patient care.
In 2008, Boca Raton resident Joan Beber, then a recent MDVIP member, sought medical attention for leg pain and was treated by MDVIP primary care physician Charles Metzger Jr., MD. Despite the progressive worsening of her condition, Beber was repeatedly misdiagnosed by Metzger and other MDVIP-affiliated staff members, according to her lawsuit. Orthopedists, to which Beber was referred by Metzger and with whom Metzger was supposed to be coordinating Beber’s care, were never given medical records or informed of her worsening symptoms, she claimed. That information should have led to the discovery of a serious circulation problem in Beber’s leg that eventually required the above-the-knee amputation. She spent the next four years dealing with serious phantom pain and struggling to learn to walk on a prosthetic leg before she died of leukemia in 2012.
Significantly, the scope of the case extends beyond medical malpractice, explains one of Beber’s attorney, Karen Terry, JD, of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach, FL.
During the three-week trial, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued that MDVIP misled Beber and her husband, Robert Beber, into paying $1,500 each annually for what they were told, verbally and in writing, would be exceptional care provided by a network of exceptional doctors. They charged MDVIP with making false claims as to the qualifications of their doctors, the availability of specialist physicians, and access to top-quality hospitals.
The jury deliberated for just more than six hours. Metzger and his colleagues settled out of court prior to trial, but those settlements do not diminish the damages for which MDVIP was found to be liable by the jury’s verdict. The verdict also carries with it a liability for seven years of attorneys’ fees and costs, estimated to add as much as a million dollars or more to the final judgment against MDVIP, notes another of Beber’s attorneys, John Scarola, JD, of the same firm.
“MDVIP’s scheme worked just like most other con games,” Scarola says. “MDVIP essentially took money for a service that did not exist and which they never intended to provide. Had Ms. Beber not been duped, she never would have suffered the tragic and traumatic injury that ensued. The jury’s unprecedented verdict is a clear indication of their agreement that what MDVIP really stands for is Marketing Deception and Valueless Illusory Promises.”
MDVIP’s very business model is at issue, Terry adds. Concierge practices promise that a retainer payment will ensure superior service, and they may not be able to fulfill that promise, she says.
“As this landmark case sadly demonstrates, we need to take a much longer and more critical look at how this entire industry actually operates,” Terry says. “This verdict will have serious future ramifications for MDVIP, which has now been held to be vicariously liable for its physicians.”