Patient Privacy Law Looms in Bill Paxton Family Lawyers' Records Request

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge said today he wants briefing on whether patient privacy rules allow him to order Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to order the release of records on surgeries performed on other patients similar to that done by a doctor on Bill Paxton before the actor's 2017 death.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven J. Kleifield told attorneys during a Monday hearing that he does not want to direct that the records be produced to lawyers for Paxton's family if he is prohibited from doing so by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge.

Trial of the Paxton case against the hospital and Dr. Ali Khoynezhad is scheduled for Sept. 19, more than four years after the suit was brought in February 2018 by the actor's widow, Louise Paxton, and the couple's children, James and Lydia Paxton.

The actor's death certificate states he died of a stroke at age 61, 11 days after he had surgery on Feb. 14, 2017, to replace a heart valve and repair aorta damage.

Khoynezhad was a cardiothoracic surgeon employed by Cedars-Sinai who was known prior to the Paxton death to practice what has been testified to by the hospital staff as ``cowboy medicine,'' according to the suit, which further alleges that in his desire to generate more surgeries and higher numbers, he continued to ``push the envelope and pushed to do surgeries on cases that were marginal at best.''

In addition, Khoynezhad was commonly referred to among the staff as ``AK-47,'' the name of an assault weapon, the suit states.

The Paxton family lawyers say that since Khoynezhad has maintained he successfully performed many similar surgeries prior to that done on the actor, Cedars-Sinai should have to produce 62 patient records -- without identifying any patient by name -- to show whether the doctor is telling the truth. Plaintiffs' attorney Alan Van Gelder told the judge that the focus is on patients ``similarly situated'' to Mr. Paxton in three areas, mostly having to do with the patients' aorta.

Van Gelder said that if the records sought are examined, they likely will prove that Khoynezhad performed a similar surgery as that done on Paxton no more than one other time.

However, Cedars-Sinai attorney Daniel V. Farrugia told the judge that the hospital has already turned over what information it can, that producing more would violate HIPPA and that it would take a very precise court order to overcome the patient privacy protection. Farrugia also said that if the plaintiffs' attorneys want to challenge Khoynezhad's claims during trial, they can have another surgeon testify and dispute Khoynezhad's assertions.

Paxton had supporting roles in the films, ``Apollo 13,'' ``Titanic'' and ``Aliens.''

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