Supreme Court rebuffs Star Tribune data probe

Turning aside a request from the Star Tribune, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that data from an agency created by the Minnesota Legislature to help high-risk doctors, hospitals and nursing homes get malpractice insurance can stay secret. The newspaper was trying to probe why doctors who’ve been sued many times are able to stay in business.

The court said the Minnesota Joint Underwriting Association is a private entity and is not subject to state data laws.

Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl sought the data for his investigative series that showed the association has spent at least $32 million over the last decade to settle claims, “including $12 million to resolve 169 claims filed against health care providers, some of whom were accused of crippling or killing patients.”

The association claimed it’s a private entity and doesn’t have to turn over the records.

Last June, a Court of Appeals panel overturned a Ramsey County judge’s ruling that said it does.

“While the MJUA was created by state statute, it is not part of the State; it is an organization consisting of private insurers,” Supreme Court justice David Lillehaug noted in his opinion today. (pdf)

“The Star Tribune is correct that the State exercises considerable control over MJUA. For example, the Commissioner of Commerce appoints eight of the 15 members of MJUA’s board of directors. But only four are public members, and there is nothing in the statute to the effect that the directors, however appointed, owe any fiduciary duty to the State, rather than to the association itself,” Lillehaug wrote.