MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF SEPARATE PRETRIAL ORDER NO. 9127
HARVEY BARTLE, III, District Judge.
Karen Bonzon ("Ms. Bonzon" or "claimant"), a class member under the Diet Drug Nationwide Class Action Settlement Agreement ("Settlement Agreement") with Wyeth,
To seek Matrix Benefits, a claimant must first submit a completed Green Form to the Trust. The Green Form consists of three parts. The claimant or the claimant's representative completes Part I of the Green Form. Part II is completed by the claimant's attesting physician, who must answer a series of questions concerning the claimant's medical condition that correlate to the Matrix criteria set forth in the Settlement Agreement. Finally, claimant's attorney completes Part III if claimant is represented.
In November, 2002, claimant submitted a completed Green Form to the Trust signed by her attesting physician, W. Marcus Brann, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.P. Dr. Brann is no stranger to this litigation. According to the Trust, he has signed in excess of 764 Green Forms on behalf of claimants seeking Matrix Benefits. Based on an echocardiogram dated September 20, 2002, Dr. Brann attested in Part II of claimant's Green Form that Ms. Bonzon suffered from moderate mitral regurgitation and an abnormal left atrial dimension.
In the report of claimant's echocardiogram, Dr. Brann stated that Ms. Bonzon had moderate mitral regurgitation of 31%. Under the definition set forth in the Settlement Agreement, moderate or greater mitral regurgitation is present where the Regurgitant Jet Area ("RJA") in any apical view is equal to or greater than 20% of the Left Atrial Area ("LAA").
In February, 2006, the Trust forwarded the claim for review by Issam A. Mikati, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A., F.A.S.E., one of its auditing cardiologists.
Pursuant to Rule 5 of the Rules for the Audit of Matrix Compensation Claims ("Audit Rules"), the Trust undertook "to determine whether there were any intentional material misrepresentations made in connection with the Claim." As part of this review, the Trust engaged Joseph Kisslo, M.D., to review the integrity of echocardiogram system use during the performance of echocardiographic studies and the resulting interpretations submitted in support of certain claims. As stated in his September 19, 2006 declaration, Dr. Kisslo determined, in pertinent part, that:
Thus, notwithstanding Dr. Mikati's findings at audit, the Trust issued a post-audit determination denying Ms. Bonzon's claim based on its conclusion that there was substantial evidence of intentional material misrepresentation of fact in connection with the claim. Pursuant to the Audit Rules, Ms. Bonzon disputed this adverse determination.
The Trust then issued a final post-audit determination, again denying Ms. Bonzon's claim. The Trust noted that claimant's contest did not include any new medical evidence in support of Ms. Bonzon's claim. In addition, the Trust asserted that Ms. Bonzon did not make any attempt to explain or deny Dr. Kisslo's determination that there was substantial evidence of intentional material misrepresentations of fact made in connection with her claim. The Trust also contended that Class Counsel's letter could not support Ms. Bonzon's claim for benefits because it did not address the specific facts of her claim and "the primary contentions made by [Class Counsel] in [its] September 8, 2005 letter were actually litigated and have been either settled by CAP No. 11 or denied by the Court in PTO [No.] 6099, both entered on March 31, 2006." Finally, the Trust incorporated and attached the opposition it filed in response to claimant's motion.
Ms. Bonzon disputed the Trust's final determination and requested that her claim proceed through the show cause process established in the Settlement Agreement.
Once the matter was referred to the Special Master, the Trust submitted its statement of the case and supporting documentation. Claimant then served a response upon the Special Master, incorporating by reference the materials she submitted in contest. The Trust did not reply. Under the Audit Rules, it is within the Special Master's discretion to appoint a Technical Advisor
The issues presented for resolution of this claim are whether claimant has met her burden of proving that there is a reasonable medical basis for the attesting physician's finding that she suffered from moderate mitral regurgitation and an abnormal left atrial dimension and, if so, whether she also has met her burden of proving that her claim was not based, in whole or in part, on any intentional material misrepresentation of fact.
The Technical Advisor, Dr. Vigilante, reviewed claimant's echocardiogram and concluded that it was not conducted in a manner consistent with medical standards. Specifically, Dr. Vigilante observed:
Despite these deficiencies, Dr. Vigilante noted that he was able to evaluate claimant's echocardiogram and he determined that there was no reasonable medical basis for the attesting physician's finding that claimant had moderate mitral regurgitation. Dr. Vigilante explained, in pertinent part, that:
After reviewing the entire show cause record, we find claimant has not established a reasonable medical basis for the attesting physician's finding that she had moderate mitral regurgitation. In reaching this determination, we are required to apply the standards delineated in the Settlement Agreement and Audit Rules. In the context of those two documents, we have previously explained that conduct "beyond the bounds of medical reason" can include: (1) failing to review multiple loops and still frames; (2) failing to have a Board Certified Cardiologist properly supervise and interpret the echocardiogram; (3) failing to examine the regurgitant jet throughout a portion of systole; (4) over-manipulating echocardiogram settings; (5) setting a low Nyquist limit; (6) characterizing "artifacts," "phantom jets," "backflow" and other low velocity flow as mitral regurgitation; (7) failing to take a claimant's medical history; and (8) overtracing the amount of a claimant's regurgitation.
Here, Dr. Kisslo and Dr. Vigilante found that claimant's sonographer improperly selected, traced, and measured a supposed regurgitant "jet" that occurred too early in systole and consisted of backflow rather than true high velocity sustained regurgitant flow. In addition, Dr. Vigilante determined that the sonographer improperly included backflow, tracings of flow on the left ventricular side of the mitral valve, and non-mitral regurgitation low velocity flow. Finally, Dr. Kisslo and Dr. Vigilante found that the echocardiogram of attestation was not conducted in a manner consistent with medical standards because, among other things, the echocardiogram settings included clear evidence of excessive color gain and decreased low velocity reject.
Notwithstanding these deficiencies, Dr. Kisslo and Dr. Vigilante determined that Ms. Bonzon's echocardiogram demonstrated only mild mitral regurgitation. In addition, Dr. Vigilante concluded, after a thorough review, that there was no reasonable medical basis for the attesting physician's opinion that Ms. Bonzon had moderate mitral regurgitation.
Claimant does not substantively challenge the specific findings of Dr. Kisslo and Dr. Vigilante regarding the manner in which her echocardiogram was conducted or her level of mitral regurgitation was evaluated. Rather, claimant refers to documents that contend Dr. Kisslo lacked the requisite independence to validate his findings. Notably, Ms. Bonzon makes no such contention against Dr. Vigilante, an independent cardiologist appointed by the court who reached a similar conclusion during a separate review. Without identifying some specific error by the Trust's expert and the Technical Advisor, claimant cannot meet her burden of proof in establishing that her claim is payable.
We also reject claimant's argument that she should be paid because her claim passed a second audit pursuant to PTO No. 5632. The plain language of the Audit Rules expressly provides that the Trust must conduct a review separate from the auditing cardiologist with respect to whether there were any intentional material misrepresentations of fact in connection with a claim. Specifically, the Audit Rules state, in pertinent part, that:
Audit Rule 5. Based on the findings of Dr. Kisslo, the Trust denied Ms. Bonzon's claim, determining that the claim was based on one or more intentional material misrepresentations of fact.
Ms. Bonzon disputed this determination and proceeded to the show cause process. We need not determine whether there was, in fact, any intentional material misrepresentation of fact in connection with Ms. Bonzon's claim given our conclusion, based on our review of the entire record, that there is no reasonable medical basis for Dr. Brann's representation that claimant had moderate mitral regurgitation.
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that claimant has not met her burden of proving that there is a reasonable medical basis for finding that she had moderate mitral regurgitation. Therefore, we will affirm the Trust's denial of Ms. Bonzon's claim for Matrix Benefits and the related derivative claim submitted by her spouse.