ABERDEEN, S.D. — Attorneys for two South Dakota hospitals and several doctors argue that hospitals shouldn’t have to turn over documents related to doctor performance even when there’s evidence they committed fraud against patients.

The Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/2dsipnJ ) reported that the case under review by the state Supreme Court is tied to that of a spine surgeon accused of performing dozens of unnecessary surgeries on unsuspecting patients.

Under a South Dakota law, the results of medical peer reviews, in which physicians are evaluated by one another, are shielded from being used in legal proceedings against doctors, including malpractice cases.

Over 30 lawsuits were filed against spine surgeon Dr. Allen Sossan, who is accused of killing and injuring patients in Yankton between 2008 and 2012.

Prior to becoming a spine surgeon, Sossan was a convicted felon, who changed his name to avoid association with his conviction. As more lawsuits accrued against the spine surgeon, he fled the U.S. for his native Iran.

Later Sossen, was charged by a grand jury with lying on his application to get a South Dakota medical license.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Anderson, who is overseeing the lawsuits against Sossan, ruled last year that plaintiffs suing the doctors and hospitals should have access to certain materials used by hospital peer review committees to review physicians’ performance. He said the law that protects the disclosure of those materials can be breached under a crime-fraud exception.

Leslie Brueckner, an attorney for patients in the case, said patients would be deprived of due process if they could not acquire access to the documents related to physician performance.

“You have to show what the hospitals knew and when they knew it,” she said.

However, attorneys Ed Evans and Roger Sudbeck, who represent the hospitals and physicians involved in the case, argued that if a crime-fraud exemption was intended by Legislature, it would have been stated in the law.

“The language is absolute in its terms,” said Ed Evans

A decision could come later this fall.

Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com