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Supreme Court will hear charitable immunity cases

The Supreme Court of Virginia apparently will decide whether foundations set up to support teaching hospitals have charitable immunity.

The court had scheduled arguments before three-justice writ panels for May 18 in two cases from Charlottesville Circuit Court that had reached opposite conclusions on the issue. However, the court notified the lawyers this week that they need not present oral arguments because the court has decided to hear the cases.

Last year, Judge Edward L. Hogshire ruled that the University of Virginia Health Services Foundation did not have immunity, but earlier this year Fairfax Circuit Judge Randy I. Bellows, sitting by designation in Charlottesville, ruled that it did.

Another judge who sat in Charlottesville by designation, H. Thomas Padrick Jr. of Virginia Beach provided the first opinion on the issue in that court and also ruled for the plaintiff.

Judges in Norfolk and Portsmouth appear to have been unanimous in holding that physicians who work for EVMS Health Services Inc. have immunity, although Norfolk Circuit Judge Everett A. Martin Jr. said he might well have ruled otherwise if he had been the first judge there to consider the issue.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have insisted that the foundations are not true charities because they were set up to funnel money to doctors who treat patients largely as private physicians in addition to teaching at the hospitals.

The foundations have countered that their role in providing education, research and medical care for indigents makes them charities.

VLW had an account of the dispute in March.

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