Alliance for Patient Safety

                            All that is necessary for the triumph of evil...
                                                                ... is for good men to do nothing.

                                                                                                   Edmund Burke

Retaliation Against Physicians - George T O'Byrne, MD

O’Byrne v. Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center
(Challenges court holding that medical staff bylaws are not a contract)

Issue: December 2001, a California appellate court ruled that hospital medical staff bylaws can not, in and of themselves, constitute a legal contract between a hospital and an individual physician on the medical staff. The ruling in O’Byrne v. Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center closes the door on any legal right of a physician to sue the hospital for money damages arising from failure to properly enforce the medical staff bylaws. The court noted, however, that the law still permits physicians to seek bylaws enforcement through a direct court order in any particular case.

The court based its ruling on California Department of Health Services regulations that create a “preexisting duty” for the medical staff and hospital to adopt and enforce medical staff bylaws. It held that these preexisting duties negate the essential Voluntariness between contracting parties required under the law.

On February 15, 2002, CMA, with AMA support, filed a request with the California Supreme Court that it “depublish” the appellate court ruling, which, if granted, would take the case off the books. CMA argued, among other things, that the regulations permit medical staffs to create bylaws with tailored and voluntarily derived benefits and duties for the medical staff, the hospital, and individual physicians, thus preserving the voluntary element essential for the legal formation of contracts. The Supreme Court typically responds to requests to depublish within ninety (90) days.

Outcome: On June 12, 2002 the California Supreme Court denied the request for depublication.