Dr Johnson made claims of ‘unethical tactics’ in lawsuit against BHB

The original article can be found in: The Royal Gazette  By Sam Strangeways

The former chief of staff at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital threatened to block two doctors from setting up a new business if Bermuda Hospitals Board couldn’t be involved, it is alleged in court papers obtained by The Royal Gazette.

Plastic surgeon Christopher Johnson, in a $1.2 million civil lawsuit filed against BHB at the Supreme Court, claimed Donald Thomas approached him and fellow doctor Alicia Stovell-Washington about a plan they had to open a private “high-end” outpatient clinic on Laffan Street in Hamilton.

Dr Thomas, according to Dr Johnson’s legal claim for breach of contract, wanted the pair to partner with BHB’s wholly-owned subsidiary Healthcare Partners Ltd (HPL) to run the clinic — and would not take no for an answer.

But after an agreement was made the chief of staff terminated it “without explanation or cause”, the claim stated, adding that Dr Thomas used “underhanded and unethical tactics” on behalf of BHB.

In his statement of claim, Dr Johnson sought damages of $1,270,000 plus interest, costs and other relief.

BHB filed a defence to the lawsuit denying that an oral or written agreement was ever reached between the parties and insisting it did not engage in any “underhand or unethical tactics”.

The publicly-funded board said if the clinic venture got off the ground it would be acquired by a company that was separate to BHB and be “governed by three directors from the defendant [BHB], the plaintiff [Dr Johnson] and Dr Stovell” with first-year salaries of $25,000 to be paid to the directors.

The defence said the relationship between BHB and Dr Johnson broke down and it “was clear that the original venture proposed between the parties was not going to work”.

The claim, along with another lawsuit issued against BHB by Dr Johnson, was settled out of court earlier this year.

But the plastic surgeon’s lawyers have now filed a fresh writ against BHB at the Supreme Court, again seeking $1.2 million in damages from the board.

Dr Johnson claimed to this newspaper that BHB had breached the terms of the out-of-court settlement, hence the new lawsuit. Neither he nor his lawyer Michael Scott would share any further information about the latest claim.

Mr Scott said: “As one of several counsel acting on behalf of Dr Christopher Johnson, I confirm that his matters are being actively litigated at present and, therefore, the release of evidence touching on [a] case that is sub judice would prejudice the litigation so I am unable to do this at present.”

A BHB spokeswoman said: “We are aware that the writ has been filed and we will defend it vigorously.”

Supreme Court registrar Charlene Scott said the court could not release papers relating to the claim as it was a still a ‘live’ action. “Any viewing of a file will be at the permission of the parties and not the court,” she said.

Dr Johnson’s original statement of claim, filed on August 14 last year, alleged: “The plaintiff was initially reluctant to engage in any business with the said Dr Donald Thomas on behalf of the defendant [BHB].

“However, Dr Thomas threatened to outbid the plaintiff should he and his partner, Dr Alicia Stovell-Washington, decide to proceed without his involvement, and hence the defendant’s involvement, and effectively take his business concept away from him without any benefit.

“The plaintiff asserts that Dr Thomas threatened to block the plaintiff from hiring any anaesthetists, both local and foreign guest workers, from operating in the said business venture unless the hospital was able to take ownership in the said business model.”

It went on to say that Dr Johnson and eye specialist Dr Stovell-Washington agreed to partner with BHB, despite the former’s concerns, but the agreement was terminated by Dr Thomas in August 2010.

“As a result of the defendant’s actions and/or the act or omission of their agent, the defendant breached a valid contract held between the parties” the claim alleged. “As a result of the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff has suffered both financial and reputational loss and damages.”

In March 2011, then Shadow Health Minister Louise Jackson claimed BHB was “using hospital money to buy up business from local entrepreneurs”.

She alleged in the House of Assembly that small companies had been approached by BHB and “enticed” to enter into partnerships with HPL to make more money for the hospital, creating an “autocratic monopoly to basically kill any competition”.

BHB denied the allegations at the time but admitted this year that loss-making HPL had failed and would be wound down.

Dr Thomas was suspended from BHB in July last year and later resigned.

The BHB spokeswoman said: “BHB reached an agreement with Dr Johnson in June 2013 in respect of his allegations against the hospital. BHB fully responded to allegations and complaints by Dr Johnson as a part of the legal process. As our full responses are included in the defence, there is nothing more to add.”

She said Dr Johnson was not currently practising at the hospital.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Dr Stovell-Washington said: “I have no comment. This is a matter between Dr Johnson and KEMH.”

Dr Thomas’s current whereabouts are not known.

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