Deal in Magee suit in trouble

By Walter F. Roche, Jr.
Published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on November 20, 2008.

An agreement to settle the whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former Magee-Womens Hospital secretary has broken down.

Vicki Kuftic Horne, attorney for former secretary Donna Kovacs, said Wednesday the hospital and its parent, UPMC, are trying to impose conditions that are “not consistent with the facts of the case” or the agreement reached only a week ago.

Kuftic Horne said that she could not elaborate because the settlement is confidential. Common Pleas Judge Timothy P. O’Reilly dismissed a jury Nov. 12 after nearly two weeks of testimony in the case once lawyers reached the agreement.

“We have a settlement, and it is enforceable,” Kuftic Horne said, arguing that hospital officials were trying to retroactively change its terms.

UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz declined to comment.

A hearing on the motion to enforce the agreement is scheduled for Friday before Judge Gene Strassberger.

Kovacs sued the hospital on charges of wrongful termination and defamation after her dismissal in late 2004 on charges she improperly accessed and disclosed patient information.

Before the trial abruptly ended, several Magee administrators testified Kovacs was never allowed to see the records they said she improperly accessed.

While hospital officials said they took action against Kovacs because of their concern for patient privacy rights, UPMC attorneys filed a document in the case that included the names and treatment information of several patients.

UPMC acknowledged the disclosures violated the same federal law it accused Kovacs of violating.

In addition to the enforcement motion, Kuftic Horne filed noticed that she will depose UPMC chief counsel Robert J. Cindrich, counsel Mary K. Austin and Paul K. Vey, a private attorney who represented Magee.