Summit Client Wins Summary Judgment in $25M Defamation Lawsuit

A federal judge has granted summary judgment to Summit client The Seattle Times in the $25 million defamation case filed by Dr. Johnny Delashaw, former head of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute (SNI) at Swedish Hospital. The victory comes two and a half years after the lawsuit was filed.

Delashaw resigned and sued The Seattle Times after the paper ran an investigative series that found “the aggressive pursuit of more patients, more surgeries and more dollars” at SNI “placed patient care in jeopardy.”  In his lawsuit against the newspaper, Delashaw claimed the statements made in the series were defamatory.  First Amendment law expert Jessica Goldman represented The Seattle Times.  The Summit Law Group team also included Christopher Wion, Teresa Rodela, Tanya Nesbitt, Lisa Herb, Sharon Hendricks, Denise Brandenstein, Colleen Broberg, and Molly Jones

Judge James Robart granted the Summit lawyers’ first summary judgment motion in June 2020.  The court noted that the Seattle Times articles were published after the state medical board had launched an investigation into Dr. Delashaw and that Delashaw had resigned from SNI upon agreeing that he would never again be employed by Swedish.  The court ruled that, while at Swedish, Delashaw’s production volume impacted his high level of compensation.  That volume was driven by what Judge Robart concluded was Delashaw’s participation in concurrent surgeries at SNI.  The court found that while junior surgeons were operating on Delashaw’s patients, Delashaw might be in another operating room or seeing a patient in his office.  Judge Robart dismissed Delashaw’s claim that the reporting about concurrent surgeries was defamatory because Delashaw did not offer any evidence that the newspaper’s statements were false.  To the contrary, the court noted that “the only available evidence shows that Dr. Delashaw participated in the kinds of simultaneous procedures about which” the newspaper “reported and was not present for the entirety of every surgical procedure.”  Likewise, the court rejected Delashaw’s claim that he was defamed by The Seattle Times’ reporting about the performance of unnecessary operations at SNI, finding that Delashaw also failed to show that this reporting was false.  Judge Robart also rejected Delashaw’s claim that the newspaper falsely reported data regarding Swedish Hospital and SNI.  Finally, the court’s June 2020 order dismissed Delashaw’s claim that the series falsely reported on patient risk.  Delashaw had failed to contradict The Seattle Times’ reporting that Swedish Hospital, SNI and Delashaw engaged in practices that placed patients at risk or caused patients harm. 

In their final successful motion filed in July 2020, the Summit lawyers argued that Delashaw was unable to show that The Seattle Times’ description of the SNI incentive contracts caused him any damage, that those statements were false, and that the newspaper acted with fault.  The court agreed and on November 18, 2020, dismissed Delashaw’s remaining claims against the newspaper. 

“We are extremely pleased that Judge Robart has concluded what we believed all along — that our reporting on Dr. Delashaw and Swedish Neuroscience Institute was accurate, thorough and fair,” said Seattle Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores, in a prepared statement.  

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Goldman called the news organization “a critical source of news and information for our community about the things that matter most. The reporting that was challenged in this lawsuit was of the highest caliber, reflecting the substantial resources and care the newspaper devotes to in-depth investigative reporting. Judge Robart’s ruling confirmed as much.”  Read the article here

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