Tenet Healthcare Settles Class-Action Lawsuit Over Katrina Hospital Deaths

Tenet Healthcare Corp. (THC), the third- largest publicly traded hospital chain, agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over patient deaths at a New Orleans medical center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Families of patients who died sued the company over the actions of officials at Memorial Medical Center in August 2005. At least 34 patients died at the hospital after the hurricane knocked out power and the temperature inside the building rose to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The hospital’s windows couldn’t be opened.

The family of Leonard Preston, who sued on behalf of people who were at the hospital or had a relative who died, claimed the center wasn’t prepared to care for patients and had no emergency plan to evacuate. Patients waited four days to be rescued. A trial began yesterday in state court in New Orleans with jury selection.

“This has been a long and difficult situation for all concerned,” Rick Black, a Tenet spokesman, said today in an e- mailed statement. “The parties are pleased to be able to announce that an amicable resolution has been reached.”

Both sides agreed to keep the terms confidential until the court approves the settlement, Black said. The lawsuit filed in 2005 was the first against Tenet to go to trial, Black said yesterday in an e-mail. The Dallas-based company settled 11 other cases over Katrina, he said.

‘Reasonable Actions’

Judge Rosemary Ledet disclosed the settlement in court earlier today. “I cannot discuss anything until there has been preliminary approval by the court,” she said.

Joe Bruno, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, didn’t immediately return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment on the settlement.

“Tenet and Memorial were reasonable in their actions,” Tony Clayton, an attorney for the hospital, said yesterday in an interview.

Katrina damaged six Tenet hospitals with losses totaling more than $150 million. Memorial Medical and Lindy Boggs Medical Center, also in New Orleans, were closed for months after the hurricane.

Preston was recovering from surgery to amputate his knee and awaiting transfer to a rehabilitation facility when Katrina struck, according to the complaint. He died after being “abandoned by the staff” following the storm, according to the complaint.

The hospital failed to implement an adequate safety evacuation plan and chose certain patients for evacuation and abandoned others, the Preston family said in the complaint. The hospital also abandoned patients without any type of life support, according to court records.

Fair Jury

Katrina, the third-deadliest U.S. hurricane, flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killing 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and causing more than $80 billion in damage.

Memorial Medical filed requests before jury selection yesterday for a mistrial and change of venue, citing media reports of victims being “cooked” to death in the heat in the facility following the hurricane.

“It will be virtually impossible for us to get a fair jury,” Clayton told Ledet yesterday.

The case is Preston v. Tenet Healthcaresystems Memorial Medical Center Inc., 05-11709-B-15, Civil District Court, New Orleans Parish.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at spearson3@bloomberg.net; Allen Johnson Jr. in New Orleans at allenmct@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net

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